THE HINDU EDITORIAL  – 21, June 2017

a) The art of positive messaging

For all the killing and beheading they do on the LoC (Line of Control), we thrashed them so badly on the cricket field yesterday,” my Uber driver told me, with a palpable tinge of pride in his voice, the morning after the Indian cricket team won the ICC Champions Trophy match against Pakistan on June 4. “But Pakistan has beaten India several times in the past,” I reminded the young man who kept checking for WhatsApp messages on his smart phone at every traffic signal. “Yeah, sometimes they (the Indian team) let us down,” he complained, irritated. I imagine that would have been the response had I spoken to him now about India’s defeat by Pakistan in the Trophy final on Sunday. Notice the subject of the two references to the Indian cricket team: victory is associated with ‘we’ and defeat is associated with ‘they’ or ‘our team’. The underlying point is simple: we would like to associate with feelings and messages of positivity, prosperity and good news. And by extension, just as we would prefer bearing good news rather than bad news, we instinctively like those who give us positive messages and promise acts of pride and achievement. Several psychologists have reached these conclusions using scientific studies. It’s basic psychology that we like to hear good things — about our country, religion, cricket team, Olympic medals, etc. — as, they are, to some extent, an extension of our own selves. When our team wins a match, we are winning the match. But when they lose, we instinctively try to shift the burden of failure to the team. This desire and imagery of positivity is not limited to present achievements alone; rather, it extends to imaginary glories of the past, revenge on the enemy, sacrifices for collective good, among others. Politicians and political parties habitually use symbols and images associated with positivity to gather domestic political support. “Make America great again” and “Bharat Mata ki jai” are two of the best examples of positive messaging in our times.

Questions of pride

                   Having been in power for over three years now, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government has little to show for itself in terms of economic growth, employment generation or national security. And yet, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity has only spiked. What explains this? Part of the answer lies in their ability to master the fine art of positive messaging by effectively fusing national pride with our ordinary selves and daily lives. Mr. Modi’s well-televised visits to great power capitals, accompanied by an abundance of glamour and grandeur, are choreographed to look like our own teleported visits there, and we feel that the ‘land of snake charmers’ has finally arrived on the world stage. From invoking ‘Gujarati asmita’ when he was the Gujarat Chief Minister to invoking national pride today, Mr. Modi’s ability to give a positive twist to just about any situation is unparalleled. Consider, for instance, how Mr. Modi reframed the curse of poverty with clever word play: “I find great potential among the poor. The poor are the strength of this country.” There are three core styles of positive messaging that the BJP typically engages in, and thereby successfully connecting with the masses on the ground, who could do with some positive news amidst all the anxieties of their daily lives. The language of greatness and growth are the most prominent in the BJP’s tool kit of political messaging. The promise of “achhe din (good days)” galvanised the national imagination and brought Mr. Modi to power in 2014. From A.B. Vajpayee’s “India Shining” to “Mera Desh Badal Raha Hai, Aage Badh Raha Hai (my country is changing, its’ moving ahead)” to calming, without any basis of course, that plastic surgery has ancient Indian roots, BJP leaders consistently emphasis India’s lost glory, and the need to restore that. It strikes a chord with the average Indian voter. The BJP also uses the language of revenge for positive messaging. What makes the post-Uri ‘surgical strikes’, giving an occasional ‘muh tod jawab (solid response)’ to Pakistan, or engaging in a war of nerves with China attractive to the public is not any novelty about them, given that previous governments have also done similar things, but the way these developments are packaged to project a strong India and a stronger Prime Minister. Third, the BJP and Mr. Modi have managed to give a positive twist to even painful, and proving to be counter-productive, decisions by the government by using the language of sacrifice. For a country that was distressed by scams after scams during the second United Progressive Alliance government, Mr. Modi’s assertive and impassioned calls for making personal sacrifices to curb corruption and terror financing came across as being driven by a national sense of purpose and invoked our deep sense of patriotic duty.

Operationalising ‘achhe din’

                                   The BJP’s well-choreographed and finely calibrated “achhe din” message constructs a seductive meta discourse about glory, achievements and revenge leading to the creation of an ecosystem of positivity. It functions like a well-designed advertising campaign — it sells you the narrative and enlists you. Once you get enlisted, you become the campaigner, and even if you know the product is faulty, you are likely to stick with it, often vigorously defending it. That’s just normal human behaviour. Many initial supporters of the BJP who were genuinely upbeat about Mr. Modi’s “achhe din” plank in 2014 today realise that this was after all a smart election strategy, but they find it too difficult to come out of the robustly constructed world of positivity and greatness, more hype than real, which they helped build and propagate. That’s not all. Besides creating a self-perpetuating and hyped-up ecosystem of positivity, the BJP has managed to further fortify its “achhe din” narrative with the discourse on antinationalism. If you are not taken in by the dominant narrative and criticise the state of affairs in the country, you could be termed as anti-national. It’s a political double whammy for those opposing the “achhe din” message — even if you are not persuaded by the ‘positive messaging’, being castigated as anti-national stops you from criticising it. While much of the “achhe din” narrative is essentially make-believe, ignoring the power of positive messaging can be perilous for those involved in mass mobilisation in an age when post-truths and alternative facts tend to chip away at the fundamentals of fact-based debates. The non-BJP parties have typically ignored the lessons of positive messaging. Most of their narratives labour on about inabilities, inadequacies and a ‘what can we do, we are a Third World country’ refrain. While the Left parties critique the Congress and the BJP, they have been unable to sell their own alternative on a grand scale. Criticism, while important for the survival of a democracy, lacks positivity. Thanks to its historical baggage of family-centred politics and corrupt leaders, the Congress party has stopped inspiring people. Left liberals are also accused of being too cynical. A few days ago, I received a WhatsApp message rhetorically asking why left liberals are so negative pessimistic about the country. The left liberal tendency to focus exclusively on shortcomings and inadequacies does not seem to sit well with a country that needs positive affirmation and a sense of self-worth. Bearers of bad news aren’t popular any more. There is, of course, a limit to how long positive messaging alone can get people rooting for a political party or ruling dispensation. The reflected glory of imagined victories is bound to fade away eventually. How the BJP’s earlier ‘India Shining’ campaign collapsed under its own weight in 2004 is a case in point. At a certain point, (real) GDP figures, shrinking employment opportunities and rising living costs will start to matter. But until then, the opposition parties might do well to take a leaf out of the BJP’s playbook.

b) American voyage

Three years after his first visit to meet U.S. President Barack Obama, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will travel to Washington for his first meeting with the new President, Donald Trump, on June 26. His visit in 2014 was made easier by a strong Indo-U.S. relationship built steadily over the previous two decades, and grounded in Mr. Obama’s personal commitment to enhancing strategic ties. It also benefited from Mr. Modi’s willingness to let bygones be bygones, over the earlier denial to him of a visa to the U.S., in order to build a new relationship, and his show of Diaspora strength in the U.S. Mr. Modi now goes to Washington as a seasoned interlocutor, not the ‘new kid on the world leadership block’ he was in previous visits. But the situation in 2017 is different. In the five months since his inauguration, Mr. Trump has made it clear that no international relationship can be taken for granted, and it will be difficult to predict which American foreign policy principles will be adhered to in the new administration, and which will be dropped without ceremony. On the partnership with India, few will be willing to hazard a guess on what Mr. Trump has in mind. As President he has spoken to Mr. Modi twice, and sent his National Security Adviser to the region. But he has also criticised India on a tough tariff regime, on immigration and professional visas, and while withdrawing from the Paris climate accord, accused India of taking “billions and billions” of U.S. aid to fund its commitments. India has not been the biggest priority on Mr. Trump’s list of meetings with world leaders; the focus has been on America’s closest alliances in Europe and Japan, and problem areas such as China and Turkey. Given the changed circumstances, officials in both India and the U.S. have reportedly set aside any formal agenda for the meeting on Monday, placing the emphasis on how the one-on-one meeting between the two leaders goes. Both sides have also, appropriately, toned down expectations of any big announcements. There are indications of likely agreements to be announced on counter-terror cooperation, maritime traffic facilitation and trade. However, it would be wise to put of more substantive decisions, on military cooperation, large defence purchases, Afghanistan and fighting regional terror, and the long-pending operationalisation of the nuclear deal to the next bilateral meeting, and focus instead on firming up the ground rules of engagement. That will allow Mr. Modi to get a true sense of what Mr. Trump’s commitment to the relationship is, while India studies its options on how to chart its course amid the new uncertainty in world politics. That he is getting a sense of the changed U.S. administration may be clear from the decision not to hold any large gatherings of the Indian-American community this time, presumably in deference to the prevailing sentiment in Washington over immigration.


1) Palpable

Meaning: So obvious that it can easily be seen or known, or (of a feeling) so strong that it seems as if it can be touched or physically felt:

Example: Her joy was palpable.

Synonyms: Visible, Noticeable

Antonyms: Intangible

2) Underlying

Meaning: Used to describe something on which something else is based; Real but not immediately obvious.

Example: The price of the investment fell below the value of the underlying assets.

Synonyms: Fundamental, Basic

Antonyms: Subordinate

3) Instinctively

Meaning: Instinctive behaviour or reactions are not thought about, planned, or developed by training.

Example: Elizabeth reacted instinctively in giving him a hug.

Synonyms: Innate, Congenital

4) Abundance

Meaning: A very large quantity of something.

Example: The tropical island boasts an abundance of wildlife.

Synonyms: Profusion

Antonyms: Lack, Scarcity

5) Prominent

Meaning: Very well known and important.

Example: She was a prominent member of the city council.

Synonyms: Important, Well known

Antonyms: Unimportant, Obscure

6) Consistently

Meaning: In a way that does not vary.

Example: students have to be treated consistently by all staff members.

7) Emphasis

Meaning: Special importance, value, or prominence given to something.

Example: They placed great emphasis on the individual’s freedom.

Synonyms: Prominence, Importance

8) Assertive

Meaning: Someone who is assertive behaves confidently and is not frightened to say what they want or believe.

Example: If you really want the promotion, you’ll have to be more assertive.

Synonyms: Confident, Forceful

Antonyms: Retiring

9) Impassioned

Meaning: Filled with or showing great emotion.

Example: She made an impassioned plea for help.

Synonyms: Emotional, Heartfelt

Antonyms: Half-hearted

10) Invoked

Meaning: To make someone have a particular feeling or remember something.

Example: she was walking in a circle as though invoking the spirits of the place.

11) Seductive

Meaning: Tempting and attractive; enticing.

Example: A Seductive voice.

Synonyms: Alluring

Antonyms: Repulsive

12) Enlisted

Meaning: Engage (a person or their help or support).

Example: The company enlisted the help of independent consultants.

Synonyms: Obtain, Engage

Antonyms: Spurn

13) Vigorously

Meaning: in a way that involves physical strength, effort, or energy; strenuously.

Example: she shook her head vigorously.

Synonyms: Strongly, Powerfully

14) Robustly

Meaning: In a determined and forceful way.

Example: The Company would robustly defend itself against accusations. Synonyms: Strong-willed.

15) Propagate

Meaning: Spread and promote (an idea, theory, etc.) widely.

Example: The French propagated the idea that the English were drunkards.

Synonyms: Spread, Disseminate

16) Self-perpetuating

Meaning: Perpetuating itself or oneself without external agency or intervention.

Example: The self-perpetuating power of the bureaucracy.

17) Dominant

Meaning: Having power and influence over others.

Example: They are now in an even more dominant position in the market.

Synonyms: Ruling, Commanding

Antonyms: Subservient, submissive

18) Whammy

Meaning: A magical spell or power that causes someone to have a difficult or unpleasant time.

Example: He put the whammy on me.

19) Persuaded

Meaning: To make someone do or believe something by giving them a good reason to do it or by talking to that person and making them believe it.

Example: If she doesn’t want to go, nothing you can say will persuade her.

Synonyms: Convince

Antonyms: Dissuade, Discourage

20) Castigated

Meaning: To criticize someone or something severely.

Example: Health inspectors castigated the kitchen staff for poor standards of cleanliness.

Synonyms: Reprimand, Rebuke

Antonyms: Praise, Commend

21) Inadequacies

Meaning: The state or quality of being inadequate; lack of the quantity or quality required.

Example: The inadequacy of available resources.

Synonyms: Insufficiency, Deficiency

Antonyms: Abundance, Surplus

22) Pessimistic

Meaning: Tending to see the worst aspect of things or believe that the worst will happen.

Example: He was pessimistic about the prospects

Synonyms: Gloomy, Negative

Antonyms: Optimistic, Hopeful

23) Affirmation

Meaning: Emotional support or encouragement; The action or process of affirming something.

Example: She affirmed her intention to apply for the post.

Synonyms: Assertion, declaration

Antonyms: Denial, Refutation

24) Dispensation

Meaning: A political or religious system controlling a country at a particular time

Example: Scholarship is conveyed to a wider audience than under the old dispensation.

Synonyms: System, Order

25) Enhancing

Meaning: To improve the quality, amount, or strength of something.

Example: His refusal does nothing to enhance his reputation.

Synonyms: Increase, Intensify

Antonyms: Diminish

26) Interlocutor

Meaning: A person who takes part in a dialogue or conversation.

Example: Abraham was able to act as interpreter and interlocutor for our group.

27) Facilitation

Meaning: The act of helping other people to deal with a process or reach an agreement or solution without getting directly involved in the process, discussion, etc. Yourself.

Example: Instructors should have appropriate facilitation skills and be able to develop learner autonomy.

28) Uncertainty

Meaning: A situation in which something is not known, or something that is not known or certain.

Example: Life is full of uncertainties.

Synonyms: Unpredictability, Unreliability

Antonyms: Certainty, Predictability

29) Presumably

Meaning: Used to say what you think is the likely situation.

Example: They can presumably afford to buy a bigger apartment.

Synonyms: Probably, Undoubtedly

30) Deference

Meaning: Polite submission and respect.

Example: He addressed her with the deference due to age.

Synonyms: Respect

Antonyms: Disrespect

31) Prevailing

Meaning: Existing in a particular place or at a particular time.

Example: The unfavourable prevailing economic conditions.