THE HUSH PUPPY SYNDROME

Narendra Modi

Narendra Modi

KANPUR, (# chhotebhai) — RAMBO NAMO has done it again, and succeeded in grabbing the headlines. At a rally at FergusonCollege, Pune, on 14th July, he accused the Congress of hiding behind a burqa. I have no problem with Narendra Modi attacking the Congress party, its policies or performance. However, he stoops too low to attack persons. His latest diatribe is to call arthashastri (economist) Manmohan an anarthashastri (meaningless person).

Why is “nationalist” Namo using a partisan metaphor like burqa? Is he not degrading both women and Muslims? Ironically, the podium from which this invective was hurled had the name of Ramzani Sound! The message should not be lost on us; that we are a composite culture with a high degree of inter-dependence between religious communities.

So why is nationalist Namo using such obnoxious and insensitive idiom? Is he a rampaging bull in a china shop? Or is he a shrewd and calculating person, who knows that the media is desperate for sound bites, and therefore obliges them with colourful metaphor? Having won several elections, and having a suave managerial style, is he also unfolding a media strategy, based on sound managerial technique, sociological and psychological analysis? Has Modi’s tongue gone out of control, or is it all under the control of his spin-doctors?

Let us analyse another recent Namo utterance. Referring to the Gujarat riots of 2002, where over 1000 Muslims were butchered, he used the analogy of a person sitting in the back seat when a puppy gets crushed under its wheels. There was a hue and cry in the political establishment, so Namo had to retract by saying that in India we worshipped all forms of life. Actually this was the second time that Namo put his foot in his mouth, after his Rambo “evacuation” of 15,000 Gujaratis from flood ravaged Uttarakhand.

Some of Namo’s diehard yuppie fans may have liked his puppy analogy. I found it an expression of his utter ruthlessness, of a dictator’s boot stomping on the voiceless. Namo claimed to be in the backseat, and therefore blissfully unaware of what the driver was doing upfront. This is the first deception. Namo is a hands-on type, who leads from the front. He is positioning himself as a decisive leader, as against an indecisive and moribund UPA leadership. Would such a leader have been on the backseat during the 2002 pogrom? The answer lies in the question itself. If Namo was the driver then he is guilty of culpable homicide. His analogy of Muslims as puppies again reveals the utter scorn and disdain with which he looks down upon the “other”.

Another occasion when Namo showed how dispensable others are in his dispensation is after two of his colleagues Bajrangi and Koshangi were sentenced to life imprisonment for their role in the 2002 pogrom. Namo was quick to distance himself from his erstwhile confidantes, going to the extent of demanding the death penalty for them. This is nothing but cold-blooded ruthlessness, his willingness to make a sacrificial lamb of his own people, so that he comes through unscathed.

The international best seller “The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell has impressed me. It is a book that many marketing gurus would swear by – the factors that tip the scales of an ordinary product or idea, and convert it into a runaway success. Marketing and advertising agencies analyse human behaviour, people’s aspirations or frustrations, and capitalize on them. They then correctly position themselves as the answer to the situation or solution to the problem. An ad driven media is only too willing to oblige the marketing gurus.

Interestingly, this best seller begins with the example of the Hush Puppies, “the classic American brush suede shoes with the lightweight crepe sole”. This product was floundering until the manufacturers stumbled upon the fact that it was most popular among “the clubs and bars of downtown Manhattan”. The company then reinvented its campaign to cater to this downtown segment of society. From sales of 30,000 a year they jumped to 4,30,000 pairs in 1995, and further quadrupled the next year. This was because the company had its pulse on the people, and was able to capitalize on the aspirations of the marginalized, by changing its marketing approach.

It is reported that Namo has an excellent team of marketing, media and management professionals. I am sure that they are aware of success stories like that of the Hush Puppies; which is why they were quick to underplay Namo’s rare slip up about the Crushed Puppy. But in true Rambo style, over ambitious Namo may leave some of his tech-savvy team gasping as he rushes ahead in his desperate attempt to become the Prime Minister of India.

Whether or not the Congress led UPA is able to scramble together a majority in the next Lok Sabha elections is not of much consequence. The real fear is of a puppy crusher going from CM to PM. We can no longer talk of this in hushed tones. Namo is sure to tip the scales. In which direction, remains to be seen.

* The writer is the former National President of the All India Catholic Union.

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