It was Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 77th ‘Mann ki Baat’ address on Sunday. The occasion also marked the completion of his government’s seven years in office. He has been using this mode of communication to place on record the government’s claimed achievements and goals, as well as the general context in which these are being accomplished. This involves social, cultural, economic and political commentary, interspersed often with personal anecdotes and acknowledgement of achievements by ordinary people. The idea is to ‘inspire’ listeners with a philosophy of being Indian in the present day. Except for those who listen because they have ‘expert comments’ to make, the ‘Mann ki Baat’ is not heard by many among the elite.
Perhaps they should, as they are the most flummoxed by his ability to influence the masses. The key element in these addresses is the importance he gives to the common person – it is like a manager reporting on his performance to his bosses. This approach may be laughed away by his critics, who have come to depend more on ‘analytics’ served up by behind the scenes companies, but it is the result of a lifetime spent in the field. It is a way of according respect to the ultimate stakeholders in the game – Indian citizens. It may be noted that after being re-elected he had added ‘Sabka Vishwas’ to his earlier motto of ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’, in response to the criticism faced during his first term. Those who believe slogans are only for election time may not accord this enunciation of principle much importance but communication, it must be remembered, is also a subliminal process. The message may not be for all, but it does go out to those for whom it matters.
Modi chose on Sunday to dispel the narrative that his government had not performed well during the latest crisis by giving credit to the people – the many Covid warriors – for having heroically fought the pandemic and its fallout. He expressed appreciation of the courage with which the recent cyclones were faced by those affected. It is like the positive spin put by a team’s coach during the break in a difficult game. That is never the time to apportion blame or undermine morale.
So, are these addresses having an effect? Are the suggestions sought from people before each event, which are added to the narrative, actually addressing their concerns? Perhaps a deeper understanding of the Indian psyche, rather than the prescriptions contrived in foreign universities, would provide the answer.