India is all agog with Rahul Gandhi’s hugging Pradhan Mantri (Prime Minister) Narendra Modi in the Indian Parliament on Friday July 20. 2018. It is usually Modi who does the hugging. He has hugged world leaders. There have hardly been any instances of an Indian leader, be they even from his own party the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who have dared to hug him. The only instance has been of the current Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Dev hugging Modi. The photo of this hug actually captures Modi’s discomfort.
When Modi hugs world leaders he is actually communicating with the Indian at home and the Indian diaspora. The message emanating from his action is of his being on par with other leaders. These hugs are a display of his power.
However, what Rahul Gandhi did on that fateful day turned the tables on how Modi uses the hug. Before hugging the Prime Minister, Rahul Gandhi said “You can abuse me, you can call me Pappu, but I don’t have a speck of hatred against you. I will take out this hatred out of you and turn it into love. I am the Congress”
With his words and action Rahul has rejigged the discourse as India heads towards the 2019 national elections. The BJP named Rahul ‘Pappu’ as a way to diminish and undermine his stature as a leader of the Congress (I). The term ‘Pappu’ became a leitmotif for the Party’s dynastic rule and Rahul Gandhi’s presumed unsuitability to lead the Congress. The BJP used it derogatorily to induce embarrassment within the Congress too. It was also a subliminal and overt message to the Indian population that Rahul Gandhi and the party he led were not worth voting for.
With Rahul telling Modi, and therefore his party and supporters, that they can call him ‘Pappu’ he has turned their weapon against them. By using the term now BJP will be reminding people of Rahul’s large- heartedness and their own mean spiritedness.
The Attachment to Acronyms
Besides christening opponents with derogatory names and promoting their use (lets not forget presstitute coined by the former Chief of the Indian Army who is now a minister in the Modi government) the BJP also has a penchant to coin acronyms.
In response to the party’s shoddy performance in the bypolls held in May this year a BJP spokesperson coined a new expansion for ‘PM’. It is usually understood to mean Prime Minister when it comes to Narendra Modi. The spokesperson stated that “ ‘P’ for Performance and ‘M’ for Mehnat (hard work)” would decide the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Suggesting that Modi and his party were working hard for the people of India. Given the current spate of lynchings in India the BJP and their spokespeople should remember what Eric Hoffer, the philosopher and author said ‘The only index by which to judge a government or a way of life is by the quality of the people it acts upon. No matter how noble the objectives of a government, if it blurs decency and kindness, cheapens human life, and breeds ill will and suspicion — it is an evil government.’
Be that as it may, acronyms have played an important role in communicating Narendra Modi’s vision to the world. In his meeting with President Xi at Wuhan in April 2018 Narendra Modi shared his vision of what would bring India and China together. According to him it was through the undecipherable STREANH – Spirituality, Tradition/Trade/Technology, Relationship, Entertainment, Art, Nature, Health sector that India and China would forge a new path together. It’s another matter that Modi had forgotten the spelling of ‘strength’ and seemed to have had a Trumpian covfefe moment.
Narendra Modi has used acronyms nationally and internationally. He spoke about B2B, Bharat to Bhutan, in recognition of the close relationship between the two countries. The Prime Minister suggested the ‘INCH towards MILES’— India-China towards a Millennium of Exceptional Synergy – his plan for an Indo-Chinese alliance. For Indians there was ‘P2G2’ Pro People Good Governance and ‘SMART’ for the Indian Police indicating they should become – Strict but sensitive, Modern and mobile, Alert and accountable, Reliable and responsive, Techno-savvy and trained.
Acronyms as a Political Tool
Acronyms have been used against political opponents too. For example during campaigning for the recently held Karnataka state elections the BJP came up with ‘TOP’ -Tomato, Onion, Potatoes to reassure farmers that the BJP will not forget them. Then there was ‘SCAM’ which was the unholy alliance between political parties and their leaders Samajwadi Party, Congress, Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati. These are everyday words that found new relevance through acronyms.
However the opposition is not taking this lying down. When Modi said that Congress would become a regional party called “PPP Congress—Punjab, Puducherry and Parivar Congress” in a campaign rally in Karnataka the former Chief Minister of Karnataka Siddaramaiah responded with “Heard you spun a new abbreviation ‘PPP’ today. Sir, we have always championed the 3 Ps of democracy – ‘Of the People, By the People, For the People’. While your party is a ‘Prison’, ‘Price Rise’ & ‘Pakoda’ party. Am I right, Sir?”.
NaMo, an abbbreviation for Narendra Modi and also a Sanskrit word for reverence is used by Modi’s acolytes. However, those opposed to Narendra Modi have expanded it to- ‘No – Action, Message Only’. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in which the BJP has a majority is now- Not Doing Anything.
Modi and the BJP are far more inventive and loquacious when it comes to acronyms. What could be the reason for this?
Acronyms are supposed to be sticky, they remain with the audience, becoming leitmotifs whenever used in conversation especially in other contexts. More so when acronyms are made from common words. Acronyms make the speaker and the idea stand out. It can also be used to deflect from pertinent issues and to obfuscate things. When the BJP spoke of Performance and Mehnat post their bypoll debacle they were protecting Modis image and indicating that he was focused on socio-economic results and not on votes.
There are other potential reasons for their coinage and use. Acronyms reduce verbiage, boiling everything down to the bare essentials. Recognising the short attention span of their audience and the number of speakers, acronym users ensure the audience come away with key points. It can make new ideas colloquial, give new garb to old ideas and make the speaker look smart.
There is also the chance that Narendra Modi, like others, assume use of acronyms indicates impactful, futuristic and if not modern thinking. There is some truth to it given science, technology and science fiction are replete with acronyms.
More importantly acronyms can also suggest that the person has a deeper understanding of an issue or is stating something new without the person really making any earth-shattering statements. The PM was not saying anything new when he mooted the idea of SMART. ‘Behavioural transformation’,‘Modernization’, ‘Personnel improvements’ are some of the pre-requisites to improve police efficiency as per the ‘Model Police Manual of the Bureau of Police Research and Development’ of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). Can the police function if they not Reliable and Responsive? How sagacious is Mr. Modi being when his acronyms are not saying anything new but rehashing the obvious or that already in the public domain?
Students use acronyms to remember concepts, usually it is the teacher that provides these acronyms. Could Narendra Modi also have found a new role for himself as the country’s Pradhan Munshi (Chief Language Teacher)? The use of acronyms will reach new heights during the upcoming 2019 election campaign. Will NDA (Newly Developed Acronyms) be vanquished by UPA (Upset People Acting)?
*Samir Nazareth is the author of 1400 Bananas, 76 Towns & 1 Million People. He tweets at @samirwrites