Philip Kotler emerged on Twitter on Tuesday evening to congratulate Prime Minister Narendra Modi for winning the first-ever Philip Kotler Presidential Award. Modi was selected for his “outstanding leadership”, his “selfless service towards India” and his “tireless energy”, tweeted the twinkly marketing guru.

To clear up the “misunderstanding with the Indian media”, Kotler also posted an interview where he spoke about the leader of a nation also being the “brand guardian of the nation”. With alliteration worthy of Modi, Kotler said the prime minister had been chosen for encouraging businesses to practise the “triple bottom line” of “profits, people, and the planet”. The three Ps, Modi might have added.

Most marketing students would have toiled through a Kotler tome at some point. The Distinguished Professor at the Kellogg School of Management in Northwestern University in the United States has a stamp with his face on it in Indonesia, several books to his credit, and was named a Legend in Marketing back in 2011.

That should answer the doubters.

A confidential award

When the prize was announced on Monday, there were quite a few. Congress President Rahul Gandhi ribbed Modi for receiving the “world famous award”. As if that wasn’t enough, a story in The Wire claimed that there was a link to a Saudi petrochemical firm.

The award was given by the World Marketing Summit, an organisation created by Kotler. In December, it held an event in Delhi, sponsored by GAIL India, a public sector company, partnered by Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali Group and Republic TV, among others. Several marketing awards were given away at the December event.

When asked about the presidential award, Walter Viera, who has been a close associate of Kotler for years and gave away some of the marketing prizes in December, said he had been told about the award the day before the function. Kotler Impact, the company which handles Kotler’s affairs, had decided to launch an award for leaders of nations who had stuck to the “triple bottom line”. The political storm over it seems to have prompted some elaboration on the matter.

“Yesterday I got an email from Professor Kotler explaining why the award was given,” Viera said. Modi, Kotler had reasoned, met the criteria admirably.

Marketing Modi

While the whole episode seems to be rich source material for conspiracy theories, it should not come as a surprise that Modi was a marketing guru’s leader of choice. This was the prime minister whose political campaigns used branding and marketing strategies from the start. Developing synergies, some might say.

In his career as prime minister, Modi has virtually patented the word “mitron” and the chest measurement of 56 inches. The Nehru jacket has turned into the Modi jacket. Government campaigns have become recognisable brand names – Digital India, Make in India, Swachh Bharat. Even if you are not quite sure what they are about, you will remember the names and logos – the swoosh of the tricolour, the mechanical lion, the Gandhi glasses.

Modi’s speeches are liberally sprinkled with the acronyms and catchphrases of management speak. He also has excellent brand endorsement. Here’s a picture of Modi hugging former United States president Barack Obama, another one of him hugging the current president, Donald Trump, another one of him with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and now this one with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. He has also become a firm believer of selfie-or-it-didn’t happen. So he grins into the camera alongside Bollywood stars, Indian schoolchildren in France, his mother.

Few prime ministers have worked so strenuously as brand guardians of the nation.