TECHNICAL ANALYSIS OF FEEL GOOD AND INDIA SHINING
Every election in independent India has been fought on some slogan or the other. It, hence, comes as a great contrast that parliamentary elections of April-May 2004 are not being fought on any political slogan. Ruling alliance (called National Democratic Alliance or NDA) has instead chosen to rely on what it calls - feel good factor.
To strengthen the feel good factor, Government of India spent close to Rs. five billion on an advertising campaign that announced "India Shining". NDA leaders are shouting from rooftops that they have done more for the country in just five years than all governments of previous fifty years. According to them, India is on the way of becoming a superpower. To support their claims, they present statistics. On the other hand, their detractors either have their own statistics or claim that the progress in past five years is a result of steps initiated in the earlier years. The debate goes on.
Common man on the street looks at the warring sides with a bemused look. He understands no statistics. In fact, he does not trust statistics. He believes that all data generated by government is fudged either intentionally or inadvertently. The credibility of government machinery is eroded on one hand by immoral corrupt politicians who head the machinery, and on the other hand, by employees and officers who are too lazy, indolent and lethargic to do any serious data collection. So, no one is impressed when someone does fine hairsplitting citing increase of parameter x from 4.56 to 4.68.
Initially, when the election campaigning was just beginning, one could see on every other TV channel, so-called wise men of various parties arguing vehemently with statistics flying all around. Soon, the TV channels, and probably the parties too, realized that no one was interested in such debates.
The end of long debates on feel good has not meant an end of feel-good, which continues to be flaunted by NDA leaders at every opportunity. However, among common public, feel-good has become a big joke, aided, of course, by brilliant satires on the subject by Jaspal Bhatti and many others. Surprisingly, it does not seem to bother the protagonists of feel-good that their most important electoral plank has been reduced to a mere joke.
Without getting involved with facts and statistics, let us do a technical analysis of feel-good as a political and electoral factor. It has been reported that LK Advani saw an advertisement of Raymond suiting with the catch-line - "Feel Heavenly" - and coined this term of feel-good. The essential difference between Raymond ad and BJP / NDA campaign is that while Raymond ad has a promise, BJP's feel-good is without a promise. Raymond ad says that if you wear Raymond suits, you will feel heavenly. The key word here is "will", which indicates future based on a condition. "India Shining" does not refer to future. It refers to present or past.
The difference between future tense and present tense is critical. Effective advertisements and political campaigns are based on hopes and dreams. A campaign that claims to merely state bare facts has the following drawbacks:
The rules in advertising and marketing world are simple - mention but do not overstress the facts; inspire hopes; build dreams; promise to satisfy lofty aspirations; all in return for the simple action of spending a few rupees or, in the case of political advertising, for casting a vote.
India Shining campaign or Bharat Uday (and feel-good factor) fails on all the above counts. It is rooted in past (performance of NDA government in past five years). Immediate past can never be as rosy as dreams of future. It makes no promise about the future. But more than anything else, the element of quid-pro-quo is absent. India is shining whether you and I vote for BJP or not - so why should we vote for BJP.
If instead of saying, "India shining", NDA leaders had adopted a slogan saying Make India Shine - Vote for BJP, this would have been a quid-pro-quo promise. The line would then have been - we have laid the foundation for India to shine; the work done by us in past five years will bear fruit if and only if we are voted back to power; there is a significant amount of unfinished agenda in our hands; if you vote for us we shall be able to complete our unfinished agenda and then India will shine.
The suggested line of campaigning for NDA involves not just a change over of past tense to future tense. It involves a change of orientation from self-appreciative and egoistic to one that is humble. That may be asking for too much from leaders who are intoxicated with their own vision of themselves. It is said that Dionysus, Greek god of wine, used to gain strength by just drinking his own self; he kept gaining strength till one day he exploded due to internal hollowness. BJP and NDA leaders need fear no such calamity in near future, at least as long as Congress is in a pathetic state of disarray and there is no other alternative on the horizon. For the moment, they can continue to make any mistakes - technical, political, tactical, strategic, ideological - and, yet, there are bound to be sufficient persons who will hail their every move in the most glowing words possible.
8 April 2004
Another important aspect for an effective advertising campaign is language, which must be the one that touches the heartstrings of target audience. Feel-good and India Shining do not translate well into Hindi and other Indian languages. In the past century or so of modern Indian politics, there has been no other political campaign, which was conceived in English.
It is ironical that a party, whose base is essentially in the Hindi-belt of the country, has chosen to express its key electoral plank in a language alien to its own cadre. This illustrates the distance that has come between the party cadre and its leadership. The two now think in different languages; live different lives; and, in fact, are worlds apart.
Please write to me your comments about the above article.
ANIL CHAWLA is an engineer (and now a lawyer too) by qualification but a philosopher by vocation and a management consultant by profession.
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