Last week, Abhinav Chokhavatia, a 32-year-old app developer from India, released his company’s latest offering, “Modified.” Built for Android devices, the app is a game that allows users to dress up Narendra Modi, the leader of the opposition and the man most likely to become India’s next prime minister, in a variety of guises.
Chokhavatia’s 18-person company, Zatun, is based in Ahmedabad, the biggest city in the state of Gujarat, of which Modi is presently the chief minister, and he was worried at first about a backlash from the politician’s supporters. ”We had this idea way back in June. But we were not too keen on going ahead and developing [it] because someone somewhere might go crazy and do something,” Chokhavatia says. But then he noticed how many other apps featuring Modi there already were.
Narendra Modi is something of an oddity in India politics. In a country with a Westminster-style parliamentary system, he has attained almost presidential levels of popularity, driving votes for his party on the basis of personality and a fiery oration. As the Economist notes in its latest issue (paywall), in a country where politicians routinely pay citizens to attend political rallies, Modi charges an entrance fee. He is also popular among the educated and the young; Modi is the most-popular Indian politician on Twitter, with some 3 million followers. The prime minister has fewer than 1 million. Modi even has a nickname: NaMo.
There are already at least a dozen games featuring Modi’s name and likeness on Google Play, the store for Android phones. (The first result on a search for the presumed Congress candidate, Rahul Gandhi, is called “Narendra Modi vs Rahul Gandhi”.) Modi Run ”is an action game where politician Modi Runs through all the states and wins over the election to become Prime Minister of India.” It has been installed on between 500,000 and 1 million devices. Narendra Modi: Game, which has been installed between 50,000 and 100,000 times, promises, “in this journey you will get information about Narendra Modi’s development in every field.” Temple Lost Running Modi 2 Run, visible in the top-right-hand corner of the above image but which has vanished since this piece was written, combined the twin Hindu obsessions of Modi and the Ayodhya temple, which has simmered at the heart of India’s religious differences since 1992. Indeed, it is not just games. A group of businessmen claim to be producing a Modi-branded phone called “Smart Namo.” Supporters routinely don Modi masks for both political and cultural events.
To many, these are signs of a personality cult. But those involved in building the cult don’t believe that is the case. “We’re just giving people a fun game to play. We don’t think it is hurting or adding to his image,” Chokhavatia says. Similar games existed for film stars, he says, so he figured, why not make one featuring a politician? Strangely enough, he doesn’t plan to make an app featuring any other politicians.