Modi and the art of the sell

His consumer, the Gujarati voter, needs pride, self-esteem. He is delivering it through his product, economic success. The Congress has no real counter offer

Why we call this occasional series from diverse zones of India, often during the elections, 'Writings on the Wall', needs repetition, particularly in times when even soundbites have been reduced to no more than 140 characters. So many years of training as a reporter have taught me that one of the more interesting ways of checking out what is going on in our country, what is changing, for better or for worse, or not changing at all, is written, literally, on our walls. So if you go to the most prosperous zones, take Punjab for example, you will find Mercs, credit cards, housing loans and easy visas and immigration to the US, Canada and now New Zealand. You go to a flourishing green revolution zone like Andhra Pradesh and the walls will be selling you tractors, fertilisers, gold loans. In Nitish's Bihar, even the boom in branded underwear, sold mostly on the walls, tells a story of small new household income surpluses and, of course, aspiration. Go anywhere in India, including the unfortunate villages in the Kosi devastation zone of Bihar, and you will see saria (iron rods) and cement selling on the walls, underlining the construction boom, and the fact that the days of "kuchcha" housing are rapidly ending. We have noted through our travels in recent years (find earlier writings in this series at that the one big change sweeping the country, and written on the walls, is the desperate clamour for modern, English-medium education.

Truth to tell, at first glance you might think this theory no longer works in Gujarat, as many other postulates of Indian politics, including anti-incumbency, don't. Having built this idea over so many years, it is a bit startling to search the walls for that one message that tells you a story of change, aspiration, something, and yet find nothing. And then the penny drops. The story of Gujarat is indeed written on its walls. Or rather, these blank walls tell you the story.

... contd.

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