Some years ago, ad doyen Prasoon Joshi coined a slogan which helped his agency boost enormously a prestigious product, Coca Cola. The simple slogan was: ‘Thanda matlab coca cola’. The magical words were spoken in the ad by actor Aamir Khan, but it was agreed that in this ad, the message was more important than the speaker.
The ad message was simple and went directly to the heart. In a nation where the sun beats down mercilessly for nine out of twelve months, what is most welcome to quench one’s thirst? Something cold, really cold to soothe the tongue, throat and stomach. It could be plain water, coconut water, ‘moar’ (buttermilk) or better still, ‘Coke.’
This soft drink message applies to other messages as well. The 1972 Lok Sabha polls brought a landslide win for Indira Gandhi’s Congress, which had then come out with a winning message, ‘Garibi Hatao.’ Of course, the party had other achievements to boast about, but the slogan effectively conveyed what the Congress would do to help the masses.
At the same time a false, insincere message can put off the people, like the NDA’s ‘India Shining’ campaign in 2004. People looked around them and discovered the sun shone only for the affluent. The NDA was routed.
While the message is important, how it is conveyed to the people is equally so. In the early 1970s, Indira Gandhi was the supreme leader, a charming woman who knew how to appeal to the hearts of the people. The message and the messenger formed an irresistible combination and offset the negative campaign launched by the ‘big biz’-owned media, famously called the ‘jute press’ by R K Karanjia of the ‘Blitz’ group of publications. Indira did not have the advantages of television, but made full use of the state-owned All India Radio.
In 2014, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, launched a somewhat similar campaign. But unlike Indira, he had the fullest support of a screaming, high-powered media, where the 24 hour news TV channels competed with one another to project his ’development’ strategy. The electorate is also different today.
In 1972, Indians were hungry for just two daily meals. Forty years later, the gap between the rich and the poor has widened. But no political party really cares for the poor and Modi’s ‘development’ is urban-oriented, benefiting only the affluent classes. TV channels, their bosses and anchors belong to the elitist classes and portrayed Modi as the saviour of the Indian economy. Such a massive, orchestrated media campaign had an impact in a nation, where even the lower middle class homes own TVs. The TV news channels have neither the desire nor the motivation to portray India’s starkest poverty-ridden areas, like the riot-hit, unrehabilitated Muslim victims of Muzaffarnagar, recently.
Yet we cannot deny that Modi’s whirlwind TV campaign influenced the voters who were totally disgusted by the incompetency, arrogance and corruption-laden UPA regime. Even the middle class, which had supported the economic liberalisation of UPA I and II, was impressed.
Who would not be impressed with the promise of good roads, millions of new jobs, power and water, massive industrialisation and so on. Gujarat was held up as the prime example, Gujarat minus the shanties and the poverty of the Muslim riot victims from 2002.
Broad-mindedness, the art of living together and tolerance are dirty words in today’s India. We forget that the minorities need decent homes, decent jobs to pay rents, school and college fees and a decent standing in society. No Indian political party seems to care for such massive divisions in Indian society. What kind of development are we talking about, with such mutual antagonism among our people?
Whatever be the size of his majority, Modi and his allies will learn that India cannot be ruled without tolerance and respect to all religions.
In this environment, Odisha and its Chief Minister Naveen Pattnaik stand out. Now Odisha is one of the poorest states in India, yet it remained untouched by the ‘Modi wave.’ Pattnaik has been re-elected thrice, with apparent ease, and his BJD party embraces everyone, including Muslims and women, in particular. Compare this to Modi’s Gujarat, which could not field a single Muslim from there.
India needs to be ruled with love, compassion and understanding. Perhaps, many of the Indians who voted for Modi are hoping that his supporters like Ramdev, Togadia, Giriraj, Asaram and their likes, will be firmly pushed aside.
Development is not just physical achievement, it should improve our minds too. We need our schools and colleges to educate our future generations on the values of tolerance, unity and diversity of India.
By the way, in the days to come, can we hope for less of vicious, foul name-calling of political opponents, an art in which the BJP seems to specialise? A transformed Modi could work wonders for this nation. But will he?