The immense popularity of the phrase also meant that there were several claimants to the slogan. As the late US President John F. Kennedy said, “Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.”
I once had a conversation with two non-BJP members of Team Modi just before the final phase of elections on 12 May when one of them claimed it was he who came up with the catchline. At that time, many people from the corporate world had invaded Delhi with similar big talk, making it difficult to tell the sacred from the profane. They had sensed an opportunity for political entrepreneurship amid the groundswell of support building up for Modi across the country. One corporate executive and BJP supporter I met at a posh restaurant in south Delhi claimed ownership of the phrase so convincingly that one had to admire his creative skills.
Light, however, dawned after the polls when Pandey came out in an interview saying he was the father of the Abki baar Modi sarkar refrain.
Until then, he had remained tight-lipped about his involvement in the entire project, often wrought by frustration at being unable to lay claim to something that was becoming bigger and bigger with each passing day. He was also pained to hear his peer Prasoon Joshi, award-winning filmmaker, lyricist and CEO of McCann Worldgroup India, being lauded for working on the BJP campaign, when, Pandey claims, Joshi only created a couple of advertisements – one of which had caused great embarrassment to the party and had to be pulled down within days.
Joshi had also created a full-length song in the initial stages of the election campaign, Saugandh mujhe iss mitti ki, mein desh nahi mitne doonga (I vow on the soil of my land that I will not let my land be washed away) which featured Modi’s voice punctuating a high-decibel passionate appeal for political change. It was launched at a press conference by Arun Jaitley, who had played a major role in the creation of the song.
Pandey disclosed to the media after Modi’s stunning victory that his team – which included thirty people in his agency Soho Square spread across Mumbai and Delhi – came up with 125 artworks across TV, radio or print, every single night within two months. People who assisted him include ad men Anuraag Khandelwal, Satish deSa, Nilesh Jain, Rajkumar Jha and Pawan Bhatt.
While Pandey wrote the hugely popular Abki baar Modi sarkar and Janta maaf nahi karegi slogans for numerous commercials, Khandelwal wrote the equally powerful Achche din aanewale hain (good days are coming) line that continues to be a hit among Modi admirers.
Pandey was assisted by the likes of Shoojit Sircar – the National Award-winning director of Bollywood films such as Vicky Donor and Madras Cafeì – in making close to ten short films every night. Manish Sherawat, an animation expert, made TV spots featuring Modi for broadcast during IPL cricket matches. Sherawat is a product of the National Institute of Design (NID), a premier design school based out of Ahmedabad.
“I needed someone who could keep things confidential and who was also highly creative. Manish and I worked as a two-man team – I would write the script and Manish would make the storyboard,” Pandey says. In fact, that was an out-of-the- box campaign, and it had to be, Pandey posits. “The audience is very different out there – they were young and they would be high on cricket when these ads were to be broadcast. I couldn’t very well do something with a lot of rona dhona (crying). I told the BJP guys I wanted to make an animation film. We would use satire; we would be inspired by the cartoonists of the world.”
Initially, Team BJP were taken aback, but eventually they decided to let the expert do his job and got on with theirs. “I did seventeen of those, they were twenty seconds each. They became a rage overnight,” Pandey remembers.
The first of the animation series launched with the line:
Bina captain ke team karegi haar,
Isliye abki baar Modi sarkar.
(Without a captain, the team will lose / That is why, this time,
With a bespectacled cricket umpire as protagonist, the cartoons were simply sketched black lines on a saffron background with a cheeky sense of humour that relied on the audience’s knowledge of politics to make their point. The first one was a dig at the Congress party’s lack of leadership; another showed a cricketer offering the umpire wads of cash, which the umpire refused, hinting at the ‘corruption-free’ promise of ‘Modi sarkar’.
A rewarding commercial made by Pandey that had a huge impact on the ground was one that guides people to press on the lotus symbol on the electronic voting machine. Titled kamal par button dabao (press the button next to the lotus flower), it was launched in light of complaints that rivals were using Modi’s name to misinform illiterate people that his symbol was the cycle, elephant and so on. One of the videos in the campaign showed a person sitting and pressing a button on and off. Another person says to him, “Why are you pressing the button? There is no electricity.” The first person says, “I know that; I am just practising. When I press the lotus button, there will be electricity.”
Looking back, Pandey says selling Modi was easy.
“He is an ad man’s delight. He is a doer as evident from his own rallies in the first part of the campaign. He is a person with tremendous energy – would anyone doubt that? He travelled like a maniac; it was insane to see his schedule. Everywhere he went, he changed scripts to match the audience and circumstances, and then he went and delivered them with the same energy as he’d done in the morning somewhere else. So it was a concentrated effort on a daily basis: there was advertising, there werekaryakartas on the ground, there were 3D rallies and then there were people on social media doing their bit. It was a mega-strategic affair. I don’t think any party has thought of their strategy this well, in India at least,” he offers.
Despite his reluctance to accept credit for BJP’s win, there is no doubt that Pandey’s advertisements contributed no less to the creation of the Modi juggernaut than rallies and the hi-tech campaign managed by the likes of social-media supporters, grassroots volunteers, various party panels and the RSS, concede BJP leaders.
All those mega sparks didn’t come without a cost, however, and Pandey always insisted on working with world-class production teams. He didn’t want to create ‘Doordarshan-style’ (DD) films, he says, referring to India’s government-owned national television looked down upon by media professionals for its shoddy production quality. In the process, Pandey disproved David Ogilvy who had feared that politicians – like crime – don’t pay.
In the first instance, he had put his foot down and said a short film would cost upwards of Rs 15 lakh, and, to his pleasant surprise, party leaders agreed. “Though they had expected the budget to be around Rs 5 lakh per film, they understood my point. I asked them, do you want a DD kind of film? I can make it for Rs 5 lakh. But I won’t put my name to it, because it’s not me,” he recounts. “Secondly, it wouldn’t do them any good either. Did they want to make a film for the sake of making a film or were they making a film that would have an impact and get talked about?”
He recalls earlier instances of how Modi would brush aside conformists who wanted to stick to tried-and-tested slogans and themes for the Gujarat Tourism campaign. “Modi’s attitude was: ‘I have hired an expert. The expert has given me a good reason of how we could be different from others. Who said we have to follow a format?’ That is the beauty of the man,” says Pandey with emphasis.
Excerpted with permission from War Room: The People, Tactics and Technology Behind Narendra Modi’s 2014 Win, Ullekh NP, Roli Books.