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Modi flies into brand cloud

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ANANYA SENGUPTA Published 24.05.14, 12:00 AM

New Delhi, May 23: Images of Narendra Modi climbing into a private company’s jet yesterday have prompted questions of propriety, with some suggesting the matter could be seen as a person elected to high office promoting a brand.

Others, however, underlined that Modi had yet not been sworn in as Prime Minister.

A few brand and image consultants frowned on Modi’s move to fly from Ahmedabad to Delhi on an Adani group-owned aircraft. During the poll campaign, the Congress had accused Modi of giving land away to the Adani group virtually for free in Gujarat.

Nothing in the law requires a Prime Minister or a Prime Minister-elect to travel solely by publicly funded flights. But occupants of high public office have often courted controversy by flying on private aircraft, even if they had paid for the flight.

Modi had used a fleet of three Adani-owned aircraft --– a jet and two choppers ---- during his election campaign, but it’s his flight as Prime Minister-designate that has generated controversy.

“As a man about to occupy the country’s highest office, why advertise an association with a private company?” said Santosh Desai, brand consultant and social commentator.

“I think this is bigger than brand promotion. It is about a perception and an association that should have been avoided,” Desai told The Telegraph.

“Inching towards new heights of crony capitalism,” was how computer researcher Sumit Shekhar interpreted the photograph in a tweet.

But image guru Dilip Cherian was willing to cut Modi some slack till his swearing-in on Monday.

“Modi as a PM-elect is the BJP’s star campaigner. Technically he is still in campaign mode. However, after he takes oath, he will have to avoid the danger of being charged with crony capitalism,” Cherian said.

“He has to then make the transition from representing Gujarat businessmen to representing the nation’s economy. If this photograph was taken when he was PM, I would have had serious issues with it.”

In 1996, then Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda had flown to Bangalore on a Reliance jet just after he had won a confidence vote. As Prime Minister, he was entitled to fly on an Indian Air Force aircraft.

Modi, already receiving Special Protection Group security as Prime Minister-designate, is also entitled to the use of air force planes.

“Technically, he has not yet been sworn in as the Prime Minister, so the BJP is bound to fall back on that excuse. But in terms of propriety, I think this shouldn’t have been done,” CPM leader Sitaram Yechury said.

“It is clear that he is going to be the Prime Minister of this country, so this was improper.”

Several public figures declined to speak on the subject. “Why are you asking me this? You should ask brand managers,” said Infosys co-founder N.R. Narayana Murthy.

Advertising professional Alyque Padamsee heard the question, then said: “I’m busy.”

Brand consultant Anirban Das Blah of CAA KWAN, one of India’s largest celebrity management firms, said: “I would not like to comment.”

Subhash C. Kashyap, political scientist and secretary-general of the Lok Sabha and Lok Sabha secretariat from 1984 to 1990, said the media should focus on more important things.

Harish Khare, former media adviser to Manmohan Singh, said he hadn’t seen the picture.

Government representatives are usually careful about brand exposure in public functions. In most televised government events, the brand names of the mineral water bottles served to dignitaries are shielded from view by plain covers.

Recently, an awards function held by a private news channel at Rashtrapati Bhavan premises had created controversy.

“For a Prime Minister-designate to be seen to be associated so obviously with a corporate (house) is awkward to say the least,” said Jagdeep Chhokar of the Association of Democratic Reforms.

In 2005, Sonia Gandhi’s use of a Reliance-owned jet on a trip to Moscow had prompted the BJP to accuse her of impropriety.

In 1994, then chief election commissioner T.N. Seshan was widely criticised for using a Reliance aircraft to attend a function in Kancheepuram.

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