Modi appropriates Mahatma Gandhi and revives a discarded political brand

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is one of the smartest politicians in recent times, PR wise. Master of the symbolic image, he has moved on from invoking BR Ambedkar to Mahatma Gandhi.

2nd October, the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, marked the official launch of Modi’s ‘Swachh Bharat Mission’ (cleanliness drive), inspired by the ideals of the Mahatma. The process of linking the BJP to the Gandhi name, an ownership that has rested firmly with the Congress party and the Gandhi dynasty since independence, began on August 15th, Independence Day. Modi used the ramparts of the historic Red Fort to spell his dream for a clean India, invoking Mahatma Gandhi.

The official launch of the campaign last week dominated the front page of most papers, linking Mahatma Gandhi firmly with Modi and also lifting the political brand Mahatma Gandhi out of token visits to his Samadhi, dry days and Bollywood movies.

Modi has been smart enough to understand from the protests spearheaded by Anna Hazare and later, Arvind Kejriwal that a rising citizen consumer class responds to the lure of campaigns pegged around brands. And there is no brand in India, with its brand qualities of anti-corruption, pro –people and cleanliness, which has the potential to have that rallying appeal more than Mahatma Gandhi.

Taking this narrative forward, today Modi has also announced that on the upcoming birthday of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, also celebrated as Children’s Day, the government will run a cleanliness campaign in every school.

These moves have left the Congress party scrambling and in the unenviable position of not being really able to protest against either the scheme or the celebration of their own parties key figures. All they have been able to say is that Swachh Bharat Abiyan,' but their ‘Nirmal Bharat Abiyan’, scheme.

Problem is it never got the attention it has now.

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