Yes, that's a 3D hologram of Narendra Modi. Image: YouTube
Indian prime minister hopeful Narendra Modi is both real and a hologram. Over the course of his campaign, according to The Independent, Modi has appeared in holographic form before audiences at some 900 rallies. When it's all said and done, Modi will have made over 1,000 holographic appearances before Indian voters.
On May 6th, for instance, Modi's holographic doppelgangers appeared at 100 3D Bharat Vijay rallies, organized by his political party, Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP), and Citizens for Accountable Governance (CAG). Modi will appear again as a hologram on May 9th as part of last electoral push before Indians head to the polls.
The holographic avatars allow Modi to give a speech in one location, and appear "live" at hundreds of rallies across India. "Each location [features] a technical setup capable of erecting 40x40x35-feet projection cubes of Modi delivering his speech live from one of the locations," the Times of India reported. "A projector is placed high above the stage to stream visuals to the stage floor, which is then reflected on the stage background. This background is made of a special, almost transparent material that provides a 3D illusion."
It's a novel and futuristic use of holography, but one deployed by a man with as many critics as supporters. Modi is said to be good on economics, but questionable on human rights, especially after his native state of Gujarat's anti-Muslim violence during his first term as Chief Minister.
Western media, especially in the US, haven't really covered Modi's innovative use of holography. (Coverage of Indian politics in general is quite rare here in the United States.) But a few days ago, John Oliver filmed a segment on Modi's use of holographic avatars at political rallies. "Modi has gone Tupac at Coachella, and that is how you convince undecided voters!" said Oliver in his mock talking head style. "So, who are you going to vote for? Modi. Why? Because he appeared as a hologram and told me he'd give me a toilet. That's not just how you get elected, that's how religions get started."
Oliver pretty much hit the nail on the head. Modi might be the first politician to use holograms on the campaign trail, but how is this any different from politicians who attract voters with televised debate appearances and campaign ads? Both types of media are virtual. The hologram only seems a bit more substantial because it creates the illusion of three dimensions, but it's just as false an image.
Modi's gambit seems to be that the holographic novelty will push him over the top in the election race. And he might just be right. Some Indian election observers, including officials in Modi's party, believe that the holograms are sustaining the candidate's electoral momentum, referred to locally as the "Modi wave."
Prakash Karat, general secretary of the opposing party CPM, believes that voters and Indian media are confusing a Modi wave with anti-corruption sentiment, which Modi is attacking at rallies. As in American politics, it's hard to tell how much of Modi's surge is due to popular support or simply better messaging.
This type of virtual reality is taken to its ultimate, science fictional conclusion in Victor Pelevin's novel Homo Zapiens. In it, the main character, Tatarsky, takes a bunch of psychedelics and cocaine to immerse himself in Western-style advertising.
His job is to sell products to a newly capitalist, post-Soviet Russia. Eventually, this novice copywriter—a hybrid Timothy Leary and Marshall McLuhan—ascends within the Institute of Apiculture, a mystical, secret society controlling the new Russia. In due course, Tatarsky finds that politicians are in fact virtual simulacra—pure digital fabrications. It's all very Philip K. Dick, but told in an entertaining Gilliamsque style.
Modi and the BJP invert it all, knowing full well that there needn't be some secret society puppeteering computer-generated or holographic politicians. The whole enterprise can be done right out in the open—everyone can be involved in the spectacle. Modi and the BJP know the holograms aren't real, but they do believe that they will deliver real results: the Indian prime minister's office, and more support for BJP's pro-globalization platform.