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The return of rousing rhetoric

Author: Avijit Ghosh,TNN
Publication: The Times of India 
Date: May 18, 2014
URL: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/lok-sabha-elections-2014/news/The-return-of-rousing-rhetoric/articleshow/35282657.cms
Introduction: Speechmaking Had fallen Silent. Then Along came Modi

In recent weeks, indeed months, if you switched on any news television channel, you were likely to find Narendra Modi delivering a public speech. Between last September when he was named the prime ministerial candidate and the last day of polls earlier this month, he addressed more than 450 rallies.

 Many of these rallies of Modi's were talkathons, marking the return of oratory in politics. Historian Rakesh Batabyal, whose book 'Modern Indian Speeches' explored the oratorical tradition of Indian politics, says that the BJP leader tapped into a vacuum created by the absence of good public speakers in national politics in recent years. "Through his speeches , Modi succeeded in plugging into the antiestablishment angst and anger of the common people against the UPA government," he says.

 Post-Independence Indian politics has produced several first-rate public speakers such as Jawaharlal Nehru, Acharya Kripalani, Ram Manohar Lohia, M Karunanidhi, George Fernandes, S A Dange, Bhupesh Gupta, Jagjivan Ram, AB Vajpayee and Lalu Prasad. But the arrival of 24x7 news television in the 1990s generated a new kind of articulate politician who could make a point in 15 sharp seconds. Kapil Sibal and Arun Jaitley, for example, are TV-savvy politicos.

 During the 2014 polls, Modi exploited television's reach through public speaking. Since he spoke at length, he consumed more air time, captured more eyeballs and mindspace. AAP's Arvind Kejriwal too had a combative style but he did not get much TV time.

 Media planner Santosh Desai says that Modi's speeches are punctuated with smart one-liners and catchphrases. On Friday, he described himself as 'mazdoor no 1' and spoke of 'Sabka sath, sabka vikas (Together, inclusive development)'. The phrase caught on instantly in social media. "Modi's style is marked by a sense of self-importance as reflected in the way he refers to himself in the third person," adds Desai.

 He says Modi emphasizes certain words and phrases and pauses to allow reactions and applause from the audience. "For instance, he uses the word shehzade in a certain way to evoke a multiplicity of meanings — Rahul Gandhi's privileged background, Congress's dynastic politics. He amplifies a point by repeating it. Yet there is little specific in his speeches. Like many US Presidents, he uses rhetoric a lot," he says.

 Political scientist Shiv Visvanathan says Modi's speeches are like dictation. "He seems to be asking: have you understood what I am saying? Do you agree? If yes, nod your head. His style is a combination of a sermon and what one sees in a management conference."

Batabyal points out that Gujarat has a tradition of producing effective public speakers such as Dayanand Saraswati, MK Gandhi, MA Jinnah and Morari Bapu. "Modi belongs to this tradition ," he says. He says Modi's tendency to mix up historical facts —he once said Taxila is in Bihar—was shared by Gandhi. "In 1915, Gandhi had erroneously said Pindaris were from Assam. When he went to Assam in 1921, he apologized for it," says Batabyal.
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