Sunday, September 29, 2013

Sex-symbol status: Narendra Modi attracts female audience, but needs to show more tenderness

Sex-symbol status: Narendra Modi attracts female audience, but needs to show more tenderness

It was during the 2007 Assembly elections in Gujarat when the term "chhappan inch nu chhati" or a 56-inch chest was first used in relation to chief minister Narendra Modi. Along with Modi face masks and the branding of the Modi half-sleeve kurta, it was the beginning of Modi's projection as India's unlikeliest sex symbol. The alpha male who set things right wasn't afraid to speak out his mind and was single-handedly spooking detractors with a narrative which had its first outing during that election.

Six years hence, the half-sleeve kurta is of the finest linen, not the humble khadi, Gucci stoles are casually flung around his neck and a suspiciously generous pelt of hair has appeared on Modi's pate. His appeal to women, according to the oestrogen-challenged Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, has only grown.

If more proof was needed, it was provided by starlet Mallika Sherawat warbling a shaky "Happy Birthday Narendraji" on September 19 with the last syllable painfully stretched out to fill the beat. She was trying to be Marilyn to JFK, but was that what Modi was aiming at?

Modi, according to those in the know, has always been more than conscious of the female vote. Apart from a helping hand to women to run small-scale businesses and expressing concern about their general safety in public spaces, he made a conscious effort to reach out to women voters. During the 2012 Assembly polls in Gujarat, he deployed Nirmala Sitharaman, Meenakshi Lekhi and Smriti Irani to especially target women voters in rural areas. His rallies have consistently attracted a more female audience than male in Gujarat.

The general atmosphere of a rise of crime against women, especially following the December 16 gang rape in Delhi and the Central government's complete misreading of the popular mood, has allowed Modi's muscular image to gain traction among women. "If women are feeling unsafe we are not to call ourselves mard," he said at a recent rally in Gujarat. And at a Ficci women's meet in April, Modi made all the right noises against female infanticide.

The BJP has been banking on Modi's muscularity to show up what they feel is the weak administrative response of the UPA government to matters of law and order, concerns which are paramount for women. Bharat Maa ka Sher and Hindu Hriday Samrat are just few of the titles being bestowed on Modi to shore up this narrative.

Even the BJP, however, could not have foreseen the Sherawat denouement.

Many confess bemusement at Modi's newfound sex symbol status, despite the fact that powerful male leaders have always attracted this kind of attention. In a purely sociological sense, women have never wielded direct political power in traditional societies; they have however controlled situations through powerful men. In that sense, Modi as alpha male would be attractive to a large number of women, quite apart from his take-charge attitude.

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