By Steve Parkhurst
On May 16th this year, I happened to be in my local Barnes & Noble, not really looking for anything in particular, just looking. I noticed a book with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the cover, and I picked it up. The book, The Modi Effect: Inside Narendra Modi’s Campaign To Transform India by Lance Price very quickly piqued my interest just enough.
I had followed Narendra Modi’s rise and his election victory in May of 2014. So I was familiar with him as a leader and candidate, but I did not know much about him as a man and how he actually got to where he is today.
I opened the book to page one, you know how that goes. The very first sentence opens like this, verbatim, “On 16 May 2014, India’s new prime minster, Narendra Modi, enterered the record books…” Pondering that date, I checked my phone, the day was May 16, 2015. Modi was declared the winner on May 16, 2014. Are you kidding me? I happen to pick up this random book about a foreign leader a year to the day he was declared the winner and the next prime minister of India? This was beyond a mere coincidence that I happened to find this book on that day.
So, I kept reading. And I kept reading.
I found The Modi Effect to be incredibly easy to read, despite many people, states and cities that I was not absolutely familiar with. Beyond being easy to read, author Lance Price tells a good story.
Narendra Modi is a man who in one election, got more than 171,000,000 votes. President Obama, in the 2008 and 2012 Presidential elections combined, received 134,000,000 votes. Yes, India is a bigger country than the United States, I get that, but 171,000,000 is still a staggering figure.
How did Narendra Modi get 171,000,000 votes? Well, that is what Lance Price set out to share with us.
The Modi Effect is not a biography, though there are sections that play out that way. The Modi Effect is a detailed, thorough chronicle of the things that helped Narendra Modi get to where he was before the election, then how he won the election, and concludes with where India stands in the world as of early 2015. I guess you could say this is mostly a campaign book, but it is not the nuts-and-bolts minutae of a political campaign, instead it is an overview of several years of the rise of a man and a movement.
I came away from The Modi Effect realizing that Narendra Modi is a fascinating man. He is detail oriented, but not a micro-manager. He is certainly a multi-tasker. He is also a man not afraid to delegate authority and empower others to get real things done. He is a master-marketer. And though he was labeled negatively by his opposition as a “showman,” he is a showman in every positive way.
For as much hype as Barack Obama and his digital gurus have received for their efforts in both 2008 and 2012, I would suggest that what Narendra Modi did over the course of his campaign was much more impressive. Especially given the diverse nature not only of India’s population, but its geography. Of particular interest was the use of hologram machines, where Modi would speak in one location, a secluded room someplace, but he would “appear” live in 3-D form in hundreds of other cities and villages at the same time, looking like he was actually there for the audience to hear. The project name for this, “Modi’s arrival is imminent” is both “messianic” as Price labeled it, but it is also just tactically brilliant.
Then there were the plastic Modi masks that made their way around the country. Actual 3-D costume-like masks that looked like Modi. People wore these and they identified Modi, and they would think about the good things, the hope and opportunity, that Modi was offering if elected prime minister. You have to read the book the understand the level of detail that Modi demanded for these masks, his personal appearance was as much a brand as his party or what he was offering the voters.
Modi took to new technologies very quickly, which is very interesting given his age. Modi was a blogger before all the modern social networking came along. He did not hesitate when it was suggested to him that he start a YouTube channel, replying to the person making the suggestion, “I want it it two days.” He made enormous use of WhatsApp, a personal instant messaging app. And of course, he was a huge factor on Facebook and Twitter. All these things are even more interesting when you think about the populace, voting and otherwise, that occupies India. Some people have never seen a television. Some people still do not have electricity.
One thing that shines through over and over throughout this book is Narendra Modi’s diligent, steady, constant work ethic. Frankly, he operates like a machine. He needs very little rest, and he is up by 5am every morning. As Price notes, “When he does do something that isn’t directly work-related – as with his daily yoga and meditation routines – it is simply to make him more productive and effective for the rest of the day.”
I also found great humor in Narendra Modi’s personality, or at least some of his personality.
In a campaign speech, Modi asked the crowd how many hours a day they get electricity. One of the responses back, noted by Price was, ‘We don’t get power.’ Think about that for a minute. At that point, Modi told the crowd that in his home state “there was 24-hour electricity.” Modi then took to mocking the current leader of the state government by saying that he would be unable to accomplish the electricity accomplishments that Modi had achieved, and Modi concluded, ‘You need a 56-inch chest to do that.’
That quip about his “56-inch chest” is just funny to me. I hope that in 2016 we will hear a presidential candidate say something like that, but I won’t hold my breath. But of greater importance, and interest, is the fact that we’re talking about a country where some people and villages still do not even have electricity. Along came Narendra Modi, offering hope, along with solutions. But unlike our current President, Mr. Modi also has accomplishments to speak of, not hollow platitudes or sleazy payoffs to campaign donors using taxpayer dollars, like Solyndra. And for however cheesy that “56-inch chest” quip might appear, if you can back up the rhetoric with results, cheesy is just fine. And sometimes, voters award cheesy with 171,000,000 votes.
Will Narendra Modi be able to do what he said about electricity? As I learned in The Modi Effect, nothing would lead me to believe he cannot deliver on his words. Lance Price tends to make us think that Narendra Modi is a one man operation. And while much of the marketing might be about Modi, instead of being about Modi’s party and other legislators, Modi has a dedicated, talented team of people working in his administration carrying out his goals and plans.
As Price pointed out, in a speech after becoming prime minister, “Modi said he didn’t plan incremental changes in India’s development. ‘We are planning to take a quantum leap.'” Narendra Modi is a man who thinks big, and works big. And as Lance Price notes later, “The most successful politicians are those who keep their eyes fixed firmly on the future, and that is exactly what Modi has always done.”
The Modi Effect as a book has so many interesting facets to help tell the story. Lance Price went to great trouble to detail for the reader the way things are done in India to make something like a political campaign, and even the election process itself, work out logistically.
India is a place where among other vehicles, elephants, camels and boats are used to get voting equipment where it needs to be so that all the people of India have an equal opportunity to cast a ballot. And because of distance and residency rules, as Price points out, a lone temple priest living in a forest was catered to by election officials by having a complete voting machine and ballot delivered to his hamlet so he could vote.
During the campaign to lead India, Narendra Modi was challenged to offer more than just sound bites and quick retorts to the challenges put to him by the opposition party leaders. Modi gave a speech called the “Idea of India”, which of course immediately reminded me of the late Jack Kemp and Congressman Paul Ryan, both advocates for the “American Idea.” Like Kemp and Ryan, Modi delivered prose that was optimistic and full of hope and promise, especially for those wanting to achieve through work and sacrifice.
“And he identified seven key priority issues that he would address as prime minister: the family, agriculture, women, the environment, youth, democracy and knowledge. He set out some detailed proposals for all of them and declared that a vote for each was a vote for India.”
As it was intended to, “The speech added weight and substance to Modi’s offer to the electorate.”
Also of particularly interesting drama was Narendra Modi’s campaigning in the home territory of his campaign rival, Rahul Gandhi. For several reasons, this sort of thing is rare. It goes without my telling you that the Gandhi family legacy is huge in India, and especially in the home territory of Gandhi. But, Modi went in there anyway. I could tell you the result of that, but I’m sure Mr. Price would rather you get a copy of the book and find out what happened.
Price finally comes to the conclusion that the one word that best sums up Narendra Modi, is “Determination.” As you work your way through The Modi Effect, you can see that as well. Modi’s work ethic shows a man unwilling to quit and too driven to want to slow down.
I find myself rooting for India. Not that I ever rooted against the country, but it is different now. I want Narendra Modi to succeed. If Narendra Modi’s India is doing well, the rest of the world benefits from that.
Early in The Modi Effect, Lance Price notes, “My politics has always been left of centre and my instincts liberal.” So I continued to read, slightly skeptical of a British liberal writing a book about a conservative, free-market oriented Prime Minister of India. I must admit though, my initial skepticism was wrong. I think Lance Price took great care to tell a story that needed telling, and he did it factually, with little if any bias. For that he is to be commended, and his book should be read.