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Narendra Modi and the “Contrast Effect”- will it benefit him ?

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In the 26 months since that historic victory in the 2014 LS polls , one thing that has always followed PM Narendra Modi is continuous grilling of his activities – by a large section of the mainstream media of India, as well as by a section of the ordinary people. This grilling is probably unprecedented in Indian political history. No other Prime Minister has generated so much interest into his activities as Narendra Modi has – be it his schemes , foreign visits or simply anything.

Now the question is – what has caused this sudden rise in grilling, unusally high for a Prime Minister in India’s political history? Is it simply because of more media coverage that Narendra Modi has received compared to previous PMs? But then a question arises that what exactly has caused this increased media coverage – since media coverage is guided by TRP? Is this beneficial or harmful for PM Narendra Modi? Let us try to explore!

First , let us study the contrast effect . It is 1 of the most important thinking errors that has hampered human psyche. It’s understanding is crucial to exploring the answers to the above questions.

Let us recall an example which many of us must have heard in our school days. Take 3 buckets, fill the first bucket with lukewarm water, second bucket with hot water and the third bucket with ice water. Dip the right hand in the ice water and left hand in hot water for one minute , then dip both the hands in the lukewarm water. The lukewarm water feels cold to the left hand but piping hot to the right hand.

This is the contrast effect . The water in the first bucket is lukewarm, but appears cold when contrasted against hot water and hot when contrasted against cold water. Without the contrast effect, the water in the first bucket would feel to both hands what it actually is – lukewarm.

The contrast effect arises out of comparison. We judge something to be beautiful, if we have some other thing which is ugly to compare it to. Similarly , we judge something to be expensive if we have a cheaper alternative. We have difficulty in making absolute judgements, that is when we don’t have the option to compare. The contrast effect can thus, ruin the rationality of our judgements.
This effect plays a huge role in politics. Because politicians are always compared to each other. A politician who is an average performer may seem good when compared to a total non-performer. Similarly , even the above average performance of a politician may seem unsatisfactory because a past politician , or another contemporary politician has performed excellent.

Now let us go back in time to October 2001 – when Narendra Modi became Gujarat CM. The Kutch earthquake had rattled the state, Keshubhai Patel had failed to perform as CM ,and the BJP was headed for a defeat in the next assembly elections.

But political opponents of BJP executed the Godhra Kand, leading to the 2002 Gujarat riots. The post riots atmosphere however helped BJP win 2/3rds majority in December 2002 Gujarat Assembly elections.

Now comes the contrast effect into play. Ideally , the expectations from a politician should be rationally high. But due to mediocrity or below average characteristic of the performance of the past chief ministers, the expectations from CM Narendra Modi were not very high. As Modi has himself said on frequent occasions , people used to request to ensure electricity atleast during the dinner hours. Without the contrast effect , the expectations would have been of 24/7 power throughout the year , which they eventually got.

Besides the 24/7 power, there were several other good socio-economic changes which were done by the Narendra Modi government in its 2002-2007 tenure. Discussing them would require several other blogs, and would lead us too far from our topic.

Thus, while the expectations of people were low, Narendra Modi government performed beyond those expectations and the contrast effect worked highly in favour of CM Narendra Modi in Gujarat, since his performance seemed very good when compared to the past CMs. The few shortcomings of the 2002-2007 tenure were highly overlooked. The contrast effect along with largely all round performance ensured victories in 2007 and 2012 Gujarat assembly elections as well.

Now let us come forward to 2013.-2014. The marketing of the achievements of his Gujarat government and of his promises if he becomes the Prime Minister , combined with the multiple failures of the UPA government at the Centre and the Congress led governments in the states, led to a historic victory of 336 seats.

But how will the contrast effect work now? Will it favour Narendra Modi ,or will it work against him?

There are two types of contrast effects possible here:

1) Where his work is contrasted with the work of the previous UPA government , under which circumstances , Narendra Modi will benefit even if he fulfills only half of his promises.

2) Where his work is contrasted with his own performance as CM and the expectations he created. In other words , PM Narendra Modi will be contrasted against PM candidate Narendra Modi and CM Narendra Modi. This contrast effect is unlikely to benefit him. Because , some of the expectations are of undefineable nature – like ‘acche din’ (good days).  The term ‘acche din’ itself is dependent on comparison and thus contrast effect comes into play here.

Gujarat was resurrected by Narendra Modi over a period of 12 and a half years, a period which he got due to the favourable contrast effects as already mentioned above, while here he gets only 5 years initially. It is difficult to perform the magic of those 12 and a half years at state level in 5 years at National level.

This contrast effect is also deadly since most people , including many of his supporters ,do not know how the so called Gujarat model was realised and how things will be different at the National level. Knowing what was achieved in Gujarat is one thing and knowing how it was achieved [The Gujarat Model] Also since empathizing with a man in a position of the Prime Minister at a time like 2014, would require combined knowledge of subjects like politics,economics, history and psychology , which few people have individually, making it even more difficult for them to empathize with PM Narendra Modi.

This effect is also primarily the reason behind the grilling mentioned at the beginning of this post.

Since the 2 contrast effects are of opposite nature ie. opposite in direction, they tend to cancel each other out. What Narendra Modi needs to do is ensure that the magnitude of the first contrast effect is more than that of the second. This can be done only and only through fulfilling maximum promises and proper communication.The various opinion polls conducted in the previous few months thankfully seem to show that the magnitude of the first effect is much more than the second, but this needs to be maintained.

The supporters of Narendra Modi can become a great tool of communication for this. They need to develop their own own empathizing skills and then contrast the work of Narendra Modi government at the Centre with its predecessor in every field – defence, agriculture, industry, etc. More in Defence and Internal Security because they receive least attention in the media but shake up the soul and conscience of ordinary Indians like nothing else.

To conclude, the overall contrast effect seems to be positive for now, and given the pace of development in many fields, including electorally crucial ones like power, combined with the master communicator that Narendra Modi is, the contrast effect is likely to be more favourable in 2019. While it is true that his communication is not in full power now, those who have observed Narendra Modi in Gujarat would know that he silently does his work for the first 3-4 years and communicates with public with full power in the last 1 or 2 years of his term, when he gets into the election mode.

The constant phase of state assembly elections has however prevented the communicator in him from hibernating , and when his and the party’s communication comes out in full power in 2018, combined with the achievements, we will likely have a highly favourable contrast effect in time for the next Lok Sabha elections in 2019.

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