There’s more to Modi’s photo Ops than Narcissism

The four Maldives ministers and their big mouths proved costly for their little country’s economy, which survives on Indian tourism rupees.

Another sheesh column praising Modi? Can’t help it. The guy manages to pull it off, Assembly elections or Maldives. There is no doubt that our beloved Prime Minister loves photo ops. Exquisitely groomed, walking upon the silver sands of Lakshadweep while the Arabian Sea chants its timeless mantra around him, projects a man deep in contemplation of his and his nation’s destiny. The snorkelling adventure sportsman wearing a life jacket (some landlubber at the PMO messed up flotation physics) signals a leader with rizz; can you imagine Manmohan scuba diving?

The four Maldives ministers and their big mouths proved costly for their little country’s economy, which survives on Indian tourism rupees. They probably hoped to please their new anti-India, Chinese puppet boss, President Mohamed Muizzu, who vowed to expel Indian troops from the island. The ministers were given marching orders, not the Indian Army.

Maldives is being cancelled online by millions of Indian tourists who are calling off their beach holidays. There was a 3,400 per cent rise in Google searches for Lakshadweep when the week began. After the holy Himalayas, now Modi ‘owns’ the Indian Ocean. To paraphrase William Cowper: “He is the monarch of all he surveys; His right there is none to dispute; From the centre all round to the sea, he is lord of the fowl and the brute.”

To read Modi’s photo ops as narcissistic nonsense is politically suicidal. The CEO of viral tweets is the master of social media, which makes him the most followed leader on X and YouTube. The resolute pilot in combat gear in the cockpit of a Tejas fighter jet is meant to evoke aerial vengeance of the Balakot kind. Modi boating on a tranquil Dal Lake signals that terrorism won’t win in Kashmir after Article 370 was binned. The viral photo of Modi busy at work on board Air India One, on his way to meet Joe Biden pictures the Man Who Never Sleeps in service of India.

Modi performing rituals in Kedarnath makes him the ultimate Hindu poster boy: a yogi whose deep spiritualism overshadows the brutal banalities of politics. The famous Modi hug is to signal his intimacy with world leaders. The Prime Minister, dressed in a grey waistcoat and matching trousers to meet and greet injured soldiers who clashed with Chinese troops in Galwan Valley represents a General Who Cares for His Men, while the Opposition launches rhetoric-rockets about Xi’s PLA occupying Indian land. The maestro of the visual message is unmatched in crafted communication. Slogans like ‘Modi Hai to Mumkin Hai’ and ‘Modi ki Guarantee’, in tandem with curated camera charisma have just one memo: Trust Modi.

This is why Rahul Gandhi and other Opposition stalwarts fail to weaken Modi’s mass might. The Modi syndrome is more than a perception battle. It is an inexplicable personal covenant with people only he has. Indians trust him. Life is expensive. The rupee keeps tanking against the dollar. It is raining corporate scandals. ED raids on political rivals are as common as Opposition MPs getting blackballed in Parliament. Still Modi is the only trusted politician where it matters.

To the Indian electorate, especially in states that have the most Lok Sabha seats, this trust is Modi’s ‘armour’, as he has often claimed in Parliament. The Congress’s first task to regain the people’s trust is to shed its corruption tag and Rahul’s dorky image. It is too late to achieve this in five months. There are not enough cameras for that.

Ravi Shankar

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The New Indian Express