Why the Modi mask is no longer in fashion in Delhi’s iconic Sadar Bazaar

The demand for election merchandise with the prime minister's face has dried up.

In Delhi’s warren-like Sadar Bazaar, there is a street where flags of Bharatiya Janata Party, Congress and Aam Aadmi Party flutter agreeably near one another. A banner hangs above the swarms of people, cars and rickshaws declaring "Jhande hi Jhande", all kinds of flags. In shop windows, Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal beam from buttons and badges. This is the place in Delhi where party loyalists, opportunists and benefactors have been coming for decades to source election paraphernalia.

Two years ago, when the so-called Modi wave was cresting, Gali Bajajan was stocked full of Modi merchandise. Shadilal of Manu Bhai Jhande Wale, for instance, had ordered masks, T-shirts, handheld fans and other knickknacks, all adorned with Modi’s face.

“During the general elections, we were getting bulk orders every day for Modi items,” said Shadilal. “We were also getting orders for Congress and AAP items, but those for BJP merchandise were larger.”

Two years on, as the Modi government reaches its second anniversary, the orders have dried up. “The masks are not in fashion anymore,” said Shadilal, fishing out an old, crumpled one from the dark interiors of his shop. “We haven’t ordered them for a year.”

A shop in Sadar Bazaar. Credit: Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri
A shop in Sadar Bazaar. Credit: Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri

The Modi mask, as much as any other merchandise, symbolised Brand Modi during the 2014 general election. Along with selfies and holograms, it was an element of his mythology and iconography. It fed into the folklore of a man who, as a child, ostensibly picked up a baby crocodile from the banks of a lake and took it home to be a pet.

At BJP rallies, hundreds of supporters would be seen donning the mask, reiterating the narrative that the contest was between Modi and the rest. At some point, naturally, Brand Modi overtook Brand BJP, and the saffron party’s mantra became “Ab ki baar, Modi sarkar" – this time, a Modi government.

His face was everywhere – on billboards, Metro stations, buses and in the newspaper. “If you look at all the symbolism of brand Modi, it’s about him as a personality – a decisive personality that has so much force that it is going to break the incapacity of the last 10 years,” adman Dheeraj Sinha was quoted as saying in the Financial Times.

A man wearing a Modi mask. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
A man wearing a Modi mask. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

An article in Business Standard in 2014 noted: “The look and feel is as much a part of the package as the sophistry. The bespoke kurta, the Movado watch, Bvlgari spectacles and the Mont Blanc pen set him quite apart from the ‘regular’ Indian politician. Modi’s obvious delight in dressing well resonates with a section of the electorate that values opportunity and personal growth and progress above divisive politics and chicanery.”

Two years later, that Modi wave has ebbed somewhat. A survey by the Centre for Media Studies of the Jawaharlal Nehru University in April found that 49% of the respondents felt there had been “no change” in their living standard, while 15% felt it had worsened.

Credit: Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri
Credit: Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri

Back in Sadar Bazaar, Ramesh Gupta runs a small stationery shop, whose storefront is lined with jars of sugary sweets, and the shelves inside are stocked with everything from Nataraj pencils to colourful chart paper and Parker pens.

For a short while in 2014, Gupta had also hoarded Modi masks and other BJP merchandise. “It made good business sense then,” said Gupta, mopping sweat off his face. “There was a demand for it at the time. I was selling single pieces rather than in bulk as the wholesale shops.”

According to Gupta, in the run-up to the elections, the paper masks were being sold for somewhere between Rs 6 and Rs 10 and the plastic ones for around Rs 15. “Anyone coming to buy a pen or a diary would pick up a mask or a Modi sticker if they were supporters. Not anymore though.”

Credit: Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri
Credit: Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri

Most shops in Sadar Bazaar tell a similar story. Modi was big during the general elections, and they were able to sell anything as long as Modi’s face was printed on it. But now the Aam Aadmi Party is the merchandise leader.

“After the party flags, AAP caps are the biggest sellers,” said Shadilal, while negotiating the price for an order of 10,000 AAP caps with a customer.

Chander Aggarwal has been in the business of selling merchandise for the past five years. His hole-in-the-wall shop, Jhanda Ghar, sits in a small, relatively quiet lane off the thoroughfare. “India sees elections throughout the year,” he said. “We get small orders every now and then, but they are mostly for party flags or AAP caps or Gandhi caps. We still have some Modi stickers and badges left from the [2014] elections.”

He pointed to a Modi sticker on the shop’s wall.

“I don’t know where the rest are kept. I will have to look for them in the back. My stock mostly got over on his one year anniversary. There were a few orders then. I haven’t ordered more, but he is completing two years as prime minister soon, maybe then.”

The lanes of Sadar Bazaar. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
The lanes of Sadar Bazaar. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content  BY 

As India turns 70, London School of Economics asks some provocative questions

Is India ready to become a global superpower?

Meaningful changes have always been driven by the right, but inconvenient questions. As India completes 70 years of its sovereign journey, we could do two things – celebrate, pay our token tributes and move on, or take the time to reflect and assess if our course needs correction. The ‘India @ 70: LSE India Summit’, the annual flagship summit of the LSE (London School of Economics) South Asia Centre, is posing some fundamental but complex questions that define our future direction as a nation. Through an honest debate – built on new research, applied knowledge and ground realities – with an eclectic mix of thought leaders and industry stalwarts, this summit hopes to create a thought-provoking discourse.

From how relevant (or irrelevant) is our constitutional framework, to how we can beat the global one-upmanship games, from how sincere are business houses in their social responsibility endeavours to why water is so crucial to our very existence as a strong nation, these are some crucial questions that the event will throw up and face head-on, even as it commemorates the 70th anniversary of India’s independence.

Is it time to re-look at constitution and citizenship in India?

The Constitution of India is fundamental to the country’s identity as a democratic power. But notwithstanding its historical authority, is it perhaps time to examine its relevance? The Constitution was drafted at a time when independent India was still a young entity. So granting overwhelming powers to the government may have helped during the early years. But in the current times, they may prove to be more discriminatory than egalitarian. Our constitution borrowed laws from other countries and continues to retain them, while the origin countries have updated them since then. So, do we need a complete overhaul of the constitution? An expert panel led by Dr Mukulika Banerjee of LSE, including political and economic commentator S Gurumurthy, Madhav Khosla of Columbia University, Niraja Gopal Jayal of JNU, Chintan Chandrachud the author of the book Balanced Constitutionalism and sociologist, legal researcher and Director of Council for Social Development Kalpana Kannabiran will seek answers to this.

Is CSR simply forced philanthropy?

While India pioneered the mandatory minimum CSR spend, has it succeeded in driving impact? Corporate social responsibility has many dynamics at play. Are CSR initiatives mere tokenism for compliance? Despite government guidelines and directives, are CSR activities well-thought out initiatives, which are monitored and measured for impact? The CSR stipulations have also spawned the proliferation of ambiguous NGOs. The session, ‘Does forced philanthropy work – CSR in India?” will raise these questions of intent, ethics and integrity. It will be moderated by Professor Harry Barkema and have industry veterans such as Mukund Rajan (Chairman, Tata Council for Community Initiatives), Onkar S Kanwar (Chairman and CEO, Apollo Tyres), Anu Aga (former Chairman, Thermax) and Rahul Bajaj (Chairman, Bajaj Group) on the panel.

Can India punch above its weight to be considered on par with other super-powers?

At 70, can India mobilize its strengths and galvanize into the role of a serious power player on the global stage? The question is related to the whole new perception of India as a dominant power in South Asia rather than as a Third World country, enabled by our foreign policies, defense strategies and a buoyant economy. The country’s status abroad is key in its emergence as a heavyweight but the foreign service officers’ cadre no longer draws top talent. Is India equipped right for its aspirations? The ‘India Abroad: From Third World to Regional Power’ panel will explore India’s foreign policy with Ashley Tellis, Meera Shankar (Former Foreign Secretary), Kanwal Sibal (Former Foreign Secretary), Jayant Prasad and Rakesh Sood.

Are we under-estimating how critical water is in India’s race ahead?

At no other time has water as a natural resource assumed such a big significance. Studies estimate that by 2025 the country will become ‘water–stressed’. While water has been the bone of contention between states and controlling access to water, a source for political power, has water security received the due attention in economic policies and development plans? Relevant to the central issue of water security is also the issue of ‘virtual water’. Virtual water corresponds to the water content (used) in goods and services, bulk of which is in food grains. Through food grain exports, India is a large virtual net exporter of water. In 2014-15, just through export of rice, India exported 10 trillion litres of virtual water. With India’s water security looking grim, are we making the right economic choices? Acclaimed author and academic from the Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi, Amita Bavisar will moderate the session ‘Does India need virtual water?’

Delve into this rich confluence of ideas and more at the ‘India @ 70: LSE India Summit’, presented by Apollo Tyres in association with the British Council and organized by Teamworks Arts during March 29-31, 2017 at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. To catch ‘India @ 70’ live online, register here.

At the venue, you could also visit the Partition Museum. Dedicated to the memory of one of the most conflict-ridden chapters in our country’s history, the museum will exhibit a unique archive of rare photographs, letters, press reports and audio recordings from The Partition Museum, Amritsar.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Teamwork Arts and not by the Scroll editorial team.