Corporate democracy: the Times of India 'Lead India' campaign (*)
Alessandra Consolaro (**)
The Times of India [TOI] is the most read English daily in India, with 7.4 million readers, which makes it also one of the biggest English speaking newspapers in the world. (1) Its 2007 advertising campaign was a complex initiative, launched for the 60th anniversary of the Independence, on January 1, 2007. It celebrated India's recent successes, emphasizing its growing economic importance on global level, but at the same time it conducted a critical assessment of sectors where India failed to deliver, particularly of public governance, bringing to the foreground issues and challenges that still face the country. 'Lead India' was declared the Best Integrated Campaign of the Year in India, got 3 out of the 10 marketing awards at the International Newsmedia Marketing Association in L.A., and took home the 2008 Grand Prix Direct Lion and Integrated Lion at Cannes "for their effort to elevate the TOI from merely being a social mouthpiece to a catalyst of social change". (2)
According to the 2006 National Readership Study [NRS] survey, readers across different strata of society are interested in various topics, among which the most relevant, apart from news and politics, is sports, followed by films and TV serials. The number of readers in rural India (110 million) is now roughly equal to that in urban India (112 million); urban and rural up-market readers exhibit very similar patterns, even if the level of interest among urban audiences is higher than among rural audiences. Albeit the press is a stable medium in India, TV is a strong competitor in the mediascape. (3) The Internet as a medium seems to have a slower than expected growth, but a new media is going to be a strong competitor for both the press and the TV industry: mobile phones, reaching more than 22 million consumers, must be given their due place as media, not because of the increasing number of cell phone owners, but because of the increasing usage of advanced features. (4) With the impending launch of 3G the quality of content that will be delivered to mobile subscribers will make it a powerful advertising medium to reckon with.
It has to be noted that the commercial public culture produced during the 1980s and 1990s has been described as the closest thing to a truly national contemporary Indian culture: (5)whileIndian cultural tradition was safeguarded through a return to 'high' textual sources, at the same time TV and Hindi cinema collaborated in the creation of a powerful new idiom of 'Indianness', which seems to be able to bring the various middle class formations into an active alignment, though often contested. (6) Entertainment and advertisement are intertwined with national identity construction: the establishment and expansion of television in the 1980s and 1990s created an unprecedented set of connections across a society with deep social divisions sedimented in time. For example, the broadcast of commercially sponsored Hindu epics serialized on the state-owned national television, to enormous popular audiences, signaled the possibility of a kind of mass participation that had never been witnessed in post-independence times. The Hindu Right was the first one to utilize this potential in an effective way. (7)
In this article I will analyse the TOI 'Lead India' campaign, highlighting how these issues have been dealt with and connected to other socio-political issues in order to acquire commercial power for the TOI group. This analysis will emphasise how the model of citizenship and nation that has been communicated through this campaign is the expression of a middle class urban milieu, proposing a neo-liberal corporation centred ideal.
1. India poised
The first part of the TOI campaign was a series of print ads titled 'India Poised'. This phase was aimed at provoking the thought "whether we are really capable of achieving what the world is expecting of us as a nation". (8) The topics were: economy, judiciary, power supply, infrastructure, public governance, infrastructure, health, business and economy, environment, social sector, sports, and culture, among others. The TOI asked people to mail and send SMS replies to opinion polls, in order to make their voices heard: this would enable them to feel as if they were part of a change, actively taking charge of the country's destiny in a time when it faces difficult choices, being at the crossroads of becoming an important player in global affairs.
The campaign theme song, expressly composed by the popular poet/lyricist Gulzar, was defined 'the new anthem' (Figure 1). Its lyrics are inspiring, charged with the spirit of a movement:
Catch the sky and get up, catch the wind and go
A video ad showed Gulzar reciting the poem in Hindi/Urdu, which is much longer than the song, and mixes the lyrics of the 'anthem' with the ideas of the print ad titled 'India vs. India' (Figure 2), which were also recited by actor Amitabh Bachchan in a commercial video released both in Hindi and English. (9) The idea was to suggest that India is divided into a modern, progressive, entrepreneurial viz. positive part opposed to a traditional, conservative, backward viz. negative section. Now time has come for the former to lead.
The video of the 'anthem' was inspired by the Nehruvian idea of 'unity in diversity'. Its anti-communalist orientation is remarkable in the time of Hindutva, because for the average audience the 'anthem' has a Muslim overtone. Even if the print ad is in Devanagari (the Hindi alphabet), the lyrics have a strong Urdu flavour: words like falak or ufak are not standard Hindi, India is defined as Hindustan rather than Bharat, and a non Sanskritic tone prevails. This type of advertising, in fact, seems to aim at selling cultural identity more than products, services, or brands, and at the same time it proposes a social ideology. The idea is to project a general identity as a South Asian Muslim, not religiously defined, but rather the cultural one, which can be accepted as 'Indian', stressing a collectively shared history and ancestry which underlies any other, more superficial difference. This notion is reinforced by the singers and musicians. Shankar, Ehsaan and Loy, a popular Mumbai based trio, are in real life Shankar Mahadevan, Ehsan Noorani and Loy Mendonsa: their names, revealing Hindu, Muslim and Christian origins, show a perfect fusion of the diverse communities living in the country reminding us of the Bollywood classic Amar Akbar Anthony. Also their music is an emblem of 'unity in diversity', their style being a fusion of Hindustani and Carnatic classical Indian vocal tradition, Western Rock, and electronic music.
The video (2' 04'') opens with three sequences. 1. The silhouettes of three men and electronic music equipment are shown on the background of a sunny sky. They are on the roof of a tall building in an urban setting. 2. A man - later recognizable as the poet Gulzar - opens a fountain pen. 3. Some school children get ready for a run competition.
The insight for the commercial is that most people in the country are aware of the prevalent economic, political and social troubles, but nobody wants to do anything about it. People know the solution to the problems, but they prefer to complain rather than act. Therefore it is necessary for all individuals to get together, beyond any imaginable difference and division, so that anyone can take part in the race towards a brilliant future, each one according to his or her ability, no matter whatever handicap there may be.
The projected image is one of unity and solidarity, of a nation where social and economic divisions are overcome, because all citizens are supportive and share a common goal. The environment promoting this is a metropolitan and cosmopolitan one, and the suggested solution is localized neo-liberal economics: Mumbai, the economic heart of the country, is the setting, and the Sensex building towering over the city is the landmark.
India Poised was conceived as a call for action and aimed at involving common people, creating a sense of participation and empowerment. The audience was confronted with stories of committed individuals, people who belong to the civil society, and whose actions hardly ever reach the news in print or television. (10) The paper ads denounced problems that plague key sectors, and the TOI invited readers to come up forward with suggestions about what they believed to be the best solutions. The TOI worked in conjunction with its television partner Times Now, a recent but popular TV channel which is characterized by the fact that it was the first channel to be launched first on mobile screens (Ambani's Reliance Infocomm Network) before it was launched on the television screens. The reader-interactive initiative 'My Times, My Voice' was aimed to involve readers also through a dedicated website and blogs. Finally, a large number of events were organized, from panel discussions and debates, to walkathons, music contests and cuisine festivals, in order to involve a larger audience.
The audience gave an enthusiastic response, sending letters, SMS, and e-mails in order to cast their vote. Here voting implied a selection among given options on topics like entrepreneurship, global takeovers, health and wellness, law and order, environment, finance, agriculture, disabled, sports, education, manifacturing, power, surface transport, and telecom. This brought to the production of a 'citizen charter'. Finally, there were contests (a short story contest, a contest for the nomination of the best representative of the new India, (11) a slogan contest), quizzes (an "Indian history quiz": Test Your India Quotient, You Say It), and games (snakes and ladder), with prizes and glory to be conquered.
Of course, in order to participate the readers had to register and communicate their e-mail address and/or cell number, thus becoming potential clients for the Times group.
2. Lead India
The second phase of the TOI campaign, which started in August 2007, was the 'Lead India' initiative. A multi-media campaign was used to generate awareness about the initiative and papers were flooded with the campaign ads, a series of print ads titled 'Do' with Shah Rukh Khan being the lead face. The Lead India initiative aimed to find new leaders from the educated urban middle class, a social group that generally does not enter politics, but aspires to reach the corporate world. People with this background, moreover, tend to disregard the provincial and rural middle classes, too linked to local concerns and distant from the cosmopolitan milieu of the urban intelligentsia. From the national perspective of the 'old' middle class, in fact, the regionalism of the last generation of political leaders is both politically and aesthetically unacceptable. According to this vision, the economic pulse of the nation is in the urban middle class, which should therefore also get a political predominance.
The slogan 'Lead India' was not new: it had been used by former President Abdul Kalam in collaboration with the Hyderabad based NGO Lead India 2020 Foundation, for an initiative involving sport, politics, cinema, and young people. (12) Also the India Poised anthem's refrain is very similar to the Lead India 2020 slogan. Aap badho desh ko badhao is very much the same idea as Tum chalo to Hindustan chale: they are both based on a concept of motion and progress. What is noticeable, though, is the less formal register of the latter. This is, in fact, what makes both campaign very different: Lead India 2020 is a typically official movement, with a highly didactic and moralizing tone. The promotional video shows a march, with references to Gandhi and 'conservative' symbols of the nation. There are youth and sports, cricket and famous people, but the visual approach is definitely poor. Lead India, on the contrary, is built up with a marketing expertise: the Lead India campaign started off as a print product with high profile print; outdoor campaigns were blasted across metros and later crossed over to TV, becoming the darling of the ad fraternity and the most awarded campaign of the year. Its appeal within the advertising world is best exemplified by the story of the TV ads.
2. A. The 'Tree ad'
The idea of the Lead India campaign was expressed at best in the 'tree' TV commercial (2 min) showing a child who ventures to clear the road of a fallen tree that has blocked the traffic, with the 'anthem' as soundtrack.
The setting is an urban crowded road, with a traffic jam caused by a tree that collapsed in the middle of the road and is blocking the way. Everyone is impacted: people in cars are honking and cursing each other, but everybody is just waiting for something to happen. Some policemen are shown sleeping in a car or telling people to go away. Street children are playing. People start getting off the cars and proceed on foot, because it will take a long time before the street gets cleared. A little boy sits in a bus on his way to school, watching the chaos. He is puzzled, but eventually he gets down and starts walking towards the tree, resolutely passing cars and buses.
In an urban setting, we find the idea of an integrated national unity that transcends differences, and people who leave behind their individual identities to heed the call for national unity. The ad shows the agent of this transformation - a leader -, who is a middle class little boy: in fact, he is promptly followed by his lower class peers and subsequently by the whole population. The change touches the younger generation first, but is bound to affect even the older ones.
The insight for the commercial is that most people in the country are aware of the prevalent economic, political and social troubles, but nobody wants to do anything about it. According to the JWT team the tree in the commercial is a metaphor for the state of the nation: cynicism is prevailing in the country and it is necessary to combat it in order to generate serious appeal. The commercial aims to inspire its audience to back the contestants who are running for the position of ultimate leader and provide them support with their votes.
2. B. Lead India hospital
The TOI site dedicated to Lead India provided a page for user generated content with a cash reward for Best Video: the video contest winner got a cash prize of 50,000 Rs for his video based on slum children education. The campaign idea, though, resonated not only among everyday audiences, but even among advertising professionals: Prasoon Joshi - chairman South & SE Asia McCann Erickson -, in association with the production house Black Magic, was so inspired by the campaign that he produced a second film (2 min.), titled 'Hospital'. (13)
The video opens on two girls: "nice", comments the one who is applying mehendi on the friend's hands. Band music is heard on the street, some crackers explode. The girl says: "I'll be back immediately", and rushes to the window, excited to see the wedding procession.
Here again the setting is urban middle class. The insight is that the qualities of a leader are a civic and human consciousness transcending individual interests, inspired by a strong sense of solidarity, and self-confidence. Anyone who possesses them can be a leader... even a young woman! As in the 'Tree ad', the character of the policeman is a symbol of the inefficiency of the public sector, a statement of failure of the Nehruvian and Congress policy.
3. Selecting hoi aristoi
On August, 15 a new phase of the campaign was launched: for the first time 'common people' were given a chance to enter politics - a field generally reserved to career politicians, or individuals born into political dynasties - thanks to "a platform to the good men and women out there who refuse to be daunted by the system, and struggle against massive odds to make life better for their fellow Indians". There was a strong 'anti-politics' stance, as the fundamental statement was that Indian economic boom is happening "despite, not because of, its political leadership", connoted as corrupted and inefficient. This was identified as the reason why "good people don't want to join politics'', though good governance is badly needed in order to facilitate the journey to developed nation status.
A national contest was announced, a talent search aimed to identify "new leaders for a new India, men and women with the vision and ability to empower India with the kind of political leadership that is so conspicuous by its absence". Among the required criteria were being within the 25-45 age bracket and not having held any elected political office in the past. The announced prize was one year at the Leadership Development Programme at the John. F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and a grant of Rs 50 lakh to fund a public service project recommended by the winner. Moreover there was the announcement of the possibility for the winner to get a platform to contest the next elections.
The response was quite much participated, with over 30,000 valid applications. There were nominations from eight Indian cities, viz. Delhi, Lucknow, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, and Pune: South and East India seem to be conspicuously absent. I have not been able to find out the exact criteria through which only these eight cities were shortlisted. Seven of them are commonly ranked among the ten fastest growing Indian cities. (14) As for Lucknow, it is the political and administrative capital of Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state. It is not particularly known as a centre of economic development, even if it has always been a major centre of journalism and it is part of the Software Technology Parks of India scheme. But it is politically relevant, not only from a demographic point of view, but also because it is the stronghold of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), led by the dalit Mayawati, who is the most charismatic leader emerged on the Indian political scene in recent years. It is impossible, though, not to notice the exclusion of other important urban centres, like the southern metropolitan city of Chennai, for example, or whole regions, like North East India or Punjab.
Candidates came from very different backgrounds: doctors, lawyers, teachers, entrepreneurs, executives, techies, NGO workers, homemakers. A first selection was made by TOI senior editors; a further selection was made through group discussions, personal interviews and public debates on a wide range of issues, including the nuclear deal, the Ram Sethu project, caste-based reservations, the fairness of TV talent hunts, does India need more government or less and whether the Cricket national team still needs Sourav, Sachin and Dravid in the one-dayers.
The jury panel consisted of achievers from different walks of life like politics, sports, education, business, social activism. (15) They would closely evaluate each candidate on various parameters, including their ability to lead the nation into future while resisting the constraints of the current political system, their ability to conceptualize a specific set of goals and converting them into practical and executable programs, the administration and leadership skills of the candidates as well as their quality of staying focused on their goals despite the immense pressures of the Indian political system. Also the viewers were asked to vote the candidates on the basis of their on-stage performance, via phone, SMS and e-mail.
The country's biggest superstar were enlisted in promoting the concept of the Lead India initiative through TV ads in both Hindi and English. Shah Rukh Khan, the protagonist of the 'Do' ad, was the main icon of this phase of the campaign. To target the younger audience, Abhishek Bachchan was co-opted. The only female ambassador was Priyanka Chopra, the popular actress who on being elected Miss World 2000 had exclaimed: "I am beautiful because I am Indian. I have the culture inside me." (16) Otherads involved popular poet and lyricist Javed Akhtar (Hindi only), and the tycoon Sunil Mittal (English only). All videos addressed the need to stop postponing, and to get involved personally in doing what is in one's ability.
After the first phase aiming at creating awareness, and the second inviting participants, the third phase aimed to garner support from the audience for the eight shortlisted contestants, provoking the audience to vote for them. TV commercials where supported by a print campaign showing the eight final contestants together with lines such as 'I am the idea that India awaits', 'I am the inspiration that India expects' and 'I am the change that India desires'. An individual-centred electoral campaigning without party symbols.
Outdoor hoardings and advertisements, and also radio were included in the campaign. But the main medium of the last phase of the campaign was TV: a reality show was broadcast, which was aimed not purely to identify a winner, but also to provide Indians - viz. middle class Indians - a chance to step out of the comfort zone and take on the task of stewarding the nation. The reality show 'Lead India' - produced by TOI in association with the popular Hindi entertainment channel 'Star One' and news partner 'Times Now' - started on December 8, 2007, and was broadcast every Saturday evening for 10 weeks, with a simulcast on Star Utsav, along with voting special episodes on Star Plus every Sunday at 7.30 pm.
Reality television has been analysed as an important political phenomenon, especially in some authoritarian countries where it represents the first time citizens ever had the opportunity to voted in any free and fair wide-scale elections. (17) But India is a democratic country, and the political impact of this kind of TV is definitely different. Indian citizens need not discover the pleasure of casting their vote, but the participatory factor represented by a voting system positively brings loads of following, and audience. Millions of Indians were invited to freely express their opinions and to help the jury to choose a new breed of leaders. The judges' votes weighted 20%, the remaining 80% would be determined by the people's vote: this was advertised as a guarantee for democratic choice, as ultimately it would be the voting audience votes that decide the winner. Though the reliability of these voting systems is always argued, the spectators have the illusion that they are actually making a choice, even when they are just opting for one of the proposed answers. Hardly any reality show reveals the exact number of votes the winner or loser gets - something which many democratic people would like to know. And another contradiction, differentiating this kind of vote from the democratic voting system, is that one can vote as many times as one wishes: even better, the more you vote, the greater the chance of your favourite contestant winning.
Reality shows in India date back to 2002, when Channel V first started a talent-hunt throughout the country to make a musical band. The audience, maybe tired of TV soaps, found the concept new and interesting, and reality TV soon got hold of the markets: nowadays talent hunts, game shows, celebrity shows, documentary-style shows, and makeover shows are very popular on Indian TVs. Whatever different concepts these shows present, inherently all of them are working in the same direction as they place celebrities and ordinary people in real-life situations and permit others to take pleasure in the excitement of watching them. But the concept of this show was quite unique in itself: while every other channel was emphasizing on the search of dancing and singing talents the Lead India campaign was an endeavour to bring out the most suitable leaders of tomorrow.
Reality shows are very high in Television Rating Points [TRP], because stakes for participants are high, be it the prize money or popularity. A lot of money is spinning around in these shows: advertisers have a target not only in those people who watch the show and give it higher TRP, but also those who vote by SMS or telephone calls. And this is the very relevant point: people who vote/SMS for reality shows are part of a business strategy carefully drawn up in the boardroom and executed by the director.
According to a rough estimate - only one medium and only one reality show - of the money these SMS provide to the channel and mobile operator, on an average a popular reality television show gets about 7 million cell phone text messages each episode, adding up to Rs. 28 million (€ 423,000) per episode (Rs. 4 per SMS). Over a year, calculating on a 50-50 split between the channel and the mobile operator, it works out to Rs. 730 million each. (18) This is definitely a very important, though less advertised, aspect of the Lead India campaign, which has been received by many as an example of grass root democracy!
3. A. The TV show opening sequence
There is a shift in the communicative approach of the TV commercial ads and the one in the show opening sequence, which is composed by two videos, immediately following each other. If we compare the opening sequence to the 'tree' spot, which could be defined as 'new social media', the language of the show opening sequence is more the 'traditional' advertising type. Where the 'tree' ad suggests that anyone has the power to change, that 'impossible is nothing', the TV sequence seems to suggest the need of an avatar, who the population should wait for and accept as their guide, their leader. The discourse shifts from the 'God within each of us' to an external being: the leader is not only a political figure, but is endowed of an almost divine power. His or her goal is not only a political aim, but gets a quasi religious connotation. One can emphasize that the discourse has a strong Hindu connotation.
Part one: the 'History' spot
The voice over declares:
They say that history repeats itself. I declare that I come with different names to write dates on the pages of history, changing from time to time. I am the leader. When India was in the chains of bondage in 1857 I was that Mangal Pandey who played the battle horn of rebellion against the British rule. I became Gandhi and I gave momentum to freedom in the country. I became Nehru and I saw the impulse of building the nation. In the foundation of the green revolution I was also Lal Bahadur Shastri. There are eyewitnesses that whenever the country has needed a leader, I have come: I became Subhash Chandra Bose, Sardar Patel, and each time I have trodden on a novel path.
These words are accompanied by images. The video opens with a black and white image of the earth and a fluttering India flag. Then comes a sequence of historical images, like archival material in a documentary style: a marching crowd; a map of British India; the date 1857; a portrait of Mangal Pandey; an image of fighting between English and Indians. The only colour is a red flame overimpressed on battle scenes, like a fire explosion. Then comes a film of English repression of Indian demonstrators; Gandhi and his followers during the Salt March (photo); Gandhi with Abha and Manu (photo); Nehru addressing the people (film); the date 1947; parade; women agricultures with harvest; Lal Bahadur Shastri (photo); people running; English soldiers beating people; Subhas Chandra Bose (film); Sardar Patel (photo), marching crowd; a young boy waving a flag. One has to note that India is here defined with the Sanskrit name: Bharatvarsa, and that the map is also reminiscent of the Great India of yore.
The 'historical' sequence ends with the picture of a child holding an India flag, fading on a colour image: the 'Tree ad' boy (figure 3), who is next shown in a quote from the video, rain soaked. The next part of the video is in colour. The setting shifts to 'modern' contemporary India, showing scenes from 'Lead India' ads; people attending sessions for the selection of the final contestants; a TV studio; the jury; the final contestants.
The video closes on the Lead India logo (figure 4): a young man wearing jeans and shirt, with a definite 'urban' connotation, whose gaze is diverted, pointing to the future. Behind him follows a 'rurally' connoted crowd, wearing 'traditional' dresses. The iconic message is very clear: in the process of selection of the future leader, brought about by a class of professionals, there is the effort to redeem the country from the disgusting domestic 'Other': the regionalism and localism of the rural middle class are definitely non qualified. Only the urban middle class runs for the leadership!
Part two: Amitabh Bachchan
The video opens with a close up on 'The great AB'. Behind him there is a long staircase, the spectator can only see the steps. But as the speech proceeds, the zoom widens and on top the sky gets visible. AB speaks in Hindi. A rough translation of the text is:
When a small boat gets out in the wide heart of the ocean it remains on the horizon until it disappears far away. In every part of the forest when death strikes a group of antelopes is like a flake of gold. This world is a battlefield, but now our country is poised: let's reach the high peak where our leader stands.
The general tone of the speech is very formal. The rhetorical apparatus is quite conservative and the imagery referred to is Hindu/Sanskritized. There are references to Mahabharata (the charioteer), there is a messianic wait for a person who is connoted as an avatar, as in the first part of the opening sequence. This person is needed in order to show the path to the masses, who would otherwise be unable to find the right direction. Only this individual will bring to life the dreams of the youth: it seems that without this external intervention they do not know how to make their own dreams come true. Last but not least, this person is necessary in order to get India to a position of world supremacy: 'we want the world at our feet' is the clear message of the spot. This is a token of the 'globalized' India, a place where cell phones and e-mail coexist with age-old rituals and occupations. The urban middle class professionals are the leading force of the country and the sooner the 'common people' recognize it, the faster India will become a world superpower.
The problem with getting this popular consensus depends on the fact that, despite the media's fascination with the success stories of India's growing middle class, its economic liberalization policy has been much more uneven in its effects. In the 1990s the government's incentives for foreign investments were accompanied by cuts in agricultural spending and subsidies. The diminished iconic value of the village in the mediascape does not mean that the problems of rural development have been resolved. Agribusiness and biotechnology have not brought wealth to small farmers as have the new technologies in urban areas; on the contrary, the late 1990s witnessed the emergence of farmer suicides, which has reached the proportion of a national crisis. In rural India 97% of the population still do not have basic facilities, debt bondage remains as much of a problem as ever, and in some states children malnutrition nearly double that of Sub-Saharan Africa. The BJP had hoped to win a second term in office by running a glossy 'India Shining' advertising campaign that capitalized on its economic achievements, from which the middle class was the one who mostly benefited. But the rural vote that helped Sonia Gandhi and the Congress Party defeat the BJP in the 2004 Indian elections has forced the media to address the disastrous cost of economic liberalization on the rural poor. Therefore, the 1990s enthusiasm for economic liberalization has been replaced with a more sober attitude, proposing a less aggressive and milder face, the one of 'social corporation', as will be shown.
The marginalisation of India's working poor and unemployed (three quarters of its population) under the neoliberalist regime raises important questions about class politics and the remaking of the Indian nation. The Indian working and rural masses once had, at least theoretically, access to the political democratic process via voting, active unions, and a range of progressive social movements. But the new political arena, filled by the rhetoric of consumer sovereignty, media manipulation, and outright vote buying by the elite and the powerful lobby of business groups and bureaucratic cronies, has slowly seen the erosion of these rights, whose process of marginalisation can be observed also in the context of the remaking of the urban landscape to cater of the needs and desires of a rising, consumer driven middle class. (19)
4. The great jury
The neoliberal rhetoric of individualism, competition and marketization is typical of the corporate world. But in India it acts also to structure middle class perceptions of what constitutes a 'good' and 'productive' worker. Even public sector employees embrace these ideologies in the hope of protecting their jobs and positions. A divide is opened up between the manual workers and those who largely work in the service sectors and professions. Manual workers, labourers and the like become increasingly marginalised by neoliberal policies, and have little political support for their plight. The sarkari educated middle classes more or less reluctantly adapt to the neoliberal world: they send their children to private, English medium schools, and support those parties (BJP and the Congress) that are the prime promoters of the reforms. In the general opinion, mutually suspicious views exist among public and private sector employees, though such perceptions seem to be rarely grounded in experience or knowledge of the other side. Public-sector workers tend to equate the private sector with insecurity and exploitation while some within the formal private sector assume that their counterparts within the public sector lack work discipline. (20)
An inquiry into the finalists of the reality show allows to draw some considerations about which group(s) they represent. All the 8 candidates have achievements in their CVs and were successful leaders in their own field of work before contesting for 'Lead India'. All of them belong to the urban middle class, come from larger or smaller cities, and are well educated, which for half of them means completing a postgraduate study abroad. The average age is 40 (only one out of 8 is 29). Most of them work in the private sector (4 out of 8); 3 out of 8 work in government institutions, and one out of 8 works in social institutions, but 4 out of 8 have social work as a side activity or turned to it after retiring from the corporate world: the winner R.K. Mishra, for example, is introduced as a 'successful entrepreneur with a social consciousness', and another finalist as a 'technocrat-turned-social activist'. Important factors seem to be concern with the environment (2 out of 8) and with education (3 out of 8). As far as gender is concerned, 2 out of 8 finalists were women. As for the values and ideologies they refer to, the social consciousness of the would be leaders is definitely linked to disillusionment with socialism. For example, Ujjwal Banerjee's online introduction emphasized that 'he is also clear that he is against socialism... [because] socialism does not reward individual excellence'.
So who's going to be the 'commercially elected' leader for tomorrow's India? In the last episode of the Lead India TV show Devang Nanavati, who resulted as first runner, is very clear about that: 'successful professionals, successful businessmen, successful people, intellectual people.'
In the 'election' as it was held in the 'Lead India' reality show the selection of the leader was advertised as a thoroughly serious and democratic process. This requires a trial process, that the candidates had to pass. In the first 2 episodes, all the 8 contestants were introduced and each one had a mentor - him/herself a leader in some way -, a prominent personality from their respective city. Then began the competitive episodes. (21) The contestants had to prove that they possess the qualities of a leader, such as knowledge; communication skills; the ability to successfully communicate with a mass audience and win it over to their own point of view; skills at executing demanding projects; honesty; clarity of thought and speech. The topics that the contestants had to master ranged from caste-based reservations in medical schools to how we treat the Indian Muslim, from death penalty for rapists to the relevance of SEZs. But in the first test, based on the 'contestants' knowledge of India' - because a leader is supposed to know the country s/he wants to lead - most of the the general knowledge questions focussed on cricket, films, and some more sports. After screening the profile of the candidates the test seems somewhat silly: to be a good leader, should one be judged on questions like 'Who played the role of Sanjay Dutt's wife in a certain movie?'.
An inquiry into the people who possess the adhikar to select the leader is useful in order to understand who are the figures projected as not only representative of the 'new India', but also as endowed with the authority and the prestige to select tomorrow's leader.
The Lead India reality show's anchor was actor Anupam Kher and the permanent jury consisted of trend-setting retired Indian Police Service (IPS) officer Kiran Bedi (aka Crane Bedi), India's first and highest ranking (retired in 2007) woman officer who joined the Indian Police Service in 1972; commercially and critically acclaimed writer and lyricist Javed Akhtar, who has a good experience in judging reality shows; and senior TOI editor Vikas Singh.
In each episode the permanent jury was also aided by special judges, drawn from different fields. Four special judges out of 12 came from the cinema and entertainment field. Among them, three were actors and one a director. The actors were Akshay Kumar (the most paid actor in Bollywood in 2007), Ajay Devgan (The Legend of Bhagat Singh, Yuva and Halla Bol), and Mr. India himself, Anil Kapoor (Nayak: The Real Hero). Rang De Basanti director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra is the figure that seems to me most relevant in the discourse about middle class and politics that was constructed by the 'Lead India' campaign. As M.K. Raghavendra has argued, in Rang De Basanti the elimination of the political class deemed directly responsible for the ills plaguing the nation is "the refrain of the upwardly mobile classes from the major cities who are impatient with the way politics hinders progress". (22)In India the upwardly mobile classes are notoriously those with the least use for politics and most indifferent to elections. But politics, for all the corruption and the problems they imply, are still the only means by which democracy works, and the 2004 elections clearly showed it. The proposal of this film was to remove politics, which is the same as declaring that those outside the upwardly mobile bracket need no advocacy. In an enthusiastic review of the film we can already trace the 'do' exhortation of the Lead India campaign: "Rang De Basanti doesn't ask what the politicians can do for us. It asks what can people do to cleanse the politics of the country". (23) But a more realistic assessment of the country development must have suggested that the deliberate appropriation of politics by this section of the population, such as the one promoted by the 'Lead India' campaign, adopt a more inclusive discourse, like the one of the social corporations.
The second most represented fields was, in fact, business and corporative world: 3 out of 12 special judges were successful businessmen, and in a show that had many similarities to Kaun Banega Crorepati, a couple of authentic billionaires fitted very well. The 37-year-old Kumar Mangalam Birla is the scion of one of the oldest Indian industrial families, one that was successful during the 'licence raj' and that is still flourishing: he is ranked 76th in the Forbes's report on The World's Billionaires and was internationally recognized as one of the Young Global Leaders. In true Marwari tradition, Kumar Birla spent his initial years of grooming as Aditya Birla's understudy, sitting in on meetings and learning the nuances of the Marwari accounting system. Yet, since 1995, when he took over as Group Chairman, he has brought in his own professional style of managing the group and stayed sharply focused on commodities. His career is an example of what's happening across Indian business families - the Bajajs, the Godrej, the Murugappas, just to mention a few - where a new generation of men and women is all set to take over the reins from their fathers and, in some cases, even professional CEOs: they are generally professionally qualified, have often worked outside their own group companies, possess a global mindset besides being technology-friendly, and in some cases have put off moving into the corner room for the sake of garnering more of the appropriate experience.
The second Crorepati, Shashi Ruia, is the chairman of Essar Group, a diversified corporation with interests in telecommunications, shipping, steel, construction, power, and oil: together with his brother Ravi he is ranked 43rd in the Forbes's report on The World's Billionaires. They too are an example of a family corporation that has renewed itself and is benefiting from India's economic boom.
Finally, ICICI Bank (India's second largest bank) CEO & MD K.V. Kamath - Economic Times and Forbes Asia Business Leader of the Year in 2007 and Padma Bhushan 2008, elected President of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) for 2008-09. His leadership is an example of how it is possible to turn a stagnating banking company into a diversified, technology-driven financial services group, that has leadership positions across banking, insurance and asset management in India, and a growing international presence. Kamath who is 57, is credited with driving not only ICICI Bank's growth, but also that of the entire financial services sector in the country: at a time when banking was synonymous with the physical banking approach of public sector banks, he introduced the ATM mode of banking that was soon duplicated by most other banks.
In the list of visiting judges follow on a par Politics and Writing, and Journalism (2 out of 12 each). Both invited politicians have in common their entrepreneurship. Jai Prakash Narayan's disciple Lalu Prasad Yadav, some years ago despised by urban Indians as an idiot villager with no formal education, during his tenure of the Indian Railways (the world's largest employer) Ministry succeeded in transforming the loss-making organization into a profitable one without using the cold logic of a modern-day corporate entity: retrenchment and privatization and hikes in fare and freight charges. (24) The Indian Railways turnaround has become an object of scientific inquiry: it is being studied at the prestigious IIM in Ahmedabad and Laluji was invited at Harvard and at eight Ivy League universities in the USA. Leader of the Rashtriya Janata Dal - that has, for the last 15 years, been running Bihar - Lalu Prasad has certainly been one of the most discussed but media-savvy politicians in India, able to project himself as a man of the people through a carefully cultivated image of being a rustic buffoon. He likes to stress the fact that, like any other manager, he is not working alone, but he has a very large team indeed: the almost 1.5 million strong army of board members, directors, managers, drivers, station masters, and other 'invisibles' of the Indian Railways.
The other politician invited as special judge was civil aviation minister Praful Patel: leader of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Union Minister of State with independent charge of Civil Aviation. He is an industrialist, known as Vidarbha's Bidi King, because his family business, CeeJay Group, is one of India's biggest bidi and tobacco-derivatives businesses in India, worth Rupees 500 crore. He was declared 2007 Business Reformer of the Year by the Economic Times of India. (25) In the TOI Lead India site he is introduced as an "industrialist, social worker, sports enthusiast".
As for the special judges from the fields of journalism and writing, one was TOI editor Dina Vakil, while the other was Shashi Tharoor, who was the official candidate of India to succeed UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2006, and who is also columnist with the TOI.
Both last - but not least - special judges were single representative in their fields, but the very presence of these fields is telling about the relevance they have in the projection of the New India. First of all advertisement. Piyush Pandey, leader of Ogilvy, is one of the country's most celebrated creative ad-men, who had a pivotal role in the growing advertising world at the beginning of the 1990s. His advertising style is credited to have taken Indian advertising from the elitist confines of the ivory tower to the Indian masses "by speaking to them in their own language". (26)
And finally comes soft power. The TOI Lead India website reads: "India may not have the strength to manipulate the UN and engage in foreign invasion as a national sport, but it can well reinvent global lifestyle and entertainment. We can replace Spiderman with Hanuman. Our export of food, fashion, cinema, mythology and spirituality must grow manifold. India must realize this is her time and going soft is the way." Here we get an instance of the new Orientalism that has been created in the construction of the New India: it is the exotic, easily marketable 'Incredible India'. The icon of this India, where yoga and mysticism coexist with capitalism and business, was well-known mystic and yogi, Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, who founded Isha Foundation in 1992: he participated at the World Economic Forum in 2006 and 2007, and is credited with helping "redefine India's and the world's definition of the term 'guru'." (27) He advocates a 'gentler economy' and he thinks the business community has an even more significant role than politicians. With speaking tours all over the world, this guru has a global audience.
India is very concerned about her coming to the global scene without losing her identity. The insight of the 'Lead India' discourse is that Indian nationalism is best sustained by the global West. The proof of the fact that the West is favouring India entering the international stage implies also a rehabilitation of white (ex colonial) people (see Rang De Basanti). Maybe it is not a coincidence that in Episode 7 a surprise guest was the British High Commissioner, Richard Stagg CMG, who announced a Chevening leadership course at the London School of Economics for three runners-up.
5. New citizenship for the new nation
In the last section of this article I will investigate the construction of a new idea of citizenship through advertisement and media. The creation of the middle class consumer in India happened in the 1990s, (28) together with the economic reforms: it seems that now the advertisement people are creating the new citizen.
The 'Lead India' campaign was successful not only for organizers and participants, but also for the 'passive' participants who contribute by being the audience. This was solicited using marketing strategies, particularly connected to the use of SMS and the internet. For example, the winner R. K. Misra, an old school techie and an IIT Kanpur graduate, used SMS tools to garner votes. MyToday, which claims to have 3 million subscribers, split 70 characters of their subscriber message shoot-outs soliciting users to vote for Misra through a short code. As usual, there is no mention on the number of votes garnered. He also maintained a blog (rajendramisra.blogspot.com), last updated on January 26, 2008, the day he won. The importance of the access to telecommunication in order to get votes was also stressed, albeit polemically, by another candidate, Ujjval Banerjee, who stated that many of the street children wanted to send in SMS votes for him, but they couldn't because they didn't have mobiles. After winning the Lead India contest, Mishra launched a social network, defined as 'A Movement for Social Entrepreneurship & Nation Building'. The site is supposed to "provide members with email IDs... create personal pages...a platform for connecting people who want to start a development project or want to fund one...discussion forums." It is very likely that the email ids will be a call for entry for Indiatimes Mail and the social network, part of a larger plan. The recent Indiatimes Mail TV commercial projects a suit of services mapped under one id: Google. (29)
The new citizenship, as I have tried to show, is connected to middle class, communication and advertisement, and the corporate world. It is also linked to leadership and power, which in the general cultural inclinations are synonymous with 'toughness' and 'manliness'. But, as I have shown, there is also the need to present a reassuring image of it, the 'nice face' of the would be leaders, capable to win consensus from a large mass. There is a constant swinging between a discourse of strength, success, power and richness and a more reassuring discourse of concern for the common people and of social corporation. Women fit into this frame because they are an important element of projection for both and they play a crucial role in the new characterization of the nation as globalized yet localized. (30) In the 1990s the mediascape showed a polarization according to which women appeared on one side as sacrificing mothers and suffering wives (TV serials, hindutva ideology of "family values" and heightened rhetoric of preserving the "traditional," "moral," and "Indian" culture aimed mainly at women) and on the other side as symbols to prove the world at large that India has "arrived" on the global stage as a "modern" country on its path to "development" (beauty queens). This polar idealized struggle does not represent reality for most Indian women who struggle to survive economically and locate themselves somewhere between these two discourses, bridging both modern and traditional ideals. In fact, the characteristics of suffering and sacrifice, considered as 'traditional' virtues distinguishing Indian women from the 'other' (viz. Western) women, were once opposed to the consumerist and 'debased' values promoted by the western womanhood. But the intersection of economic liberalization and the global approval of Western social norms led to the creation of a hybrid. It is necessary to recognize the corporate ideology of the household: women today are decision makers within the family economy, being responsible for buying 80% of the household goods, but they also play a role in influencing male customers. In the ad world the modern Indian woman is projected as independent and in charge, but in circumstances where the ideology of 'togetherness' prevail, women do not seek to be autonomous beings, separate from their households, nor is such a proposition socially acceptable. (31) The construction of the 'modern' woman as transcending caste, class, and religion legitimizes her participation in the global agenda and makes her a perfect image defining the nation. As far as the advertising world is concerned, the traditional middle class sexual division of labour, requiring men (or servants) to undertake daily food in the market, perceived as a disagreeable experience in unpleasant dirty spaces, is substituted by a new contextualization of shopping as a desirable activity to be performed in a department store, in a mall, thus becoming as an aspect of a modern life style surrounded by luxury. That in real life malls are places where much eye-shopping takes place, but very few people can afford to buy, is a different story.
Gendered narrations of the nation are produced as national cultures are re-signified and re-territorialized through power plays among social movements, communities, and classes. There seems to be a coincidence among the women in the 'Lead India' show: both the female permanent judge and the final candidates were connected to the field of military/law and order. I would like to try and make sense of this apparent coincidence, referring to the mediascape construction of womanhood in the context of nationalism.
Two women were among the Lead India final contestants: 25% is not a high rate, but it is not bad if we compare it to the general quota of representation of women in the public sphere. Both female candidates were government employees and somehow connected to the police. Soumya Kaura, in fact, was Superintendent of police in Warangal, an area in Andhra Pradesh where the 'naxalite' groups are very active. Abha Singh was Director Postal Services, but she was introduced as a fan of Supercop Julio Francis Ribeiro, (32) and as the wife of the famous former cop Y. P. Singh. (33) Interestingly enough, only the female candidates were introduced on the 'Lead India' site with a strong reference to their personal life and to the media. Soumya Kaura, for example, was said to attribute much of her inspiration to join the forces to the television series Udaan, based on the life of a lower middle class woman who decided to become a police officer when she saw her father being abused and the police refusing to register a First Information Report. (34) None of the male candidates was introduced with any reference to their private life, apart from Ujjwal Banerjee, the only finalist working in the non-profit sector on education of street kids. But both female finalists' presentations contain hints to their 'female qualities': "heady mix of beauty and power"; "Inspiring at work, caring at home and tough when it comes to deliver result"; "Despite facing limitations of being a government servant and constraints of family life, she believes in taking initiatives whenever she gets an opportunity"; "a die-hard gardener".
The womanhood advocated by these models is a new version of the old projection of women as custodians of values, where the new values are those of the consuming middle class, and 'middle-classness' itself is a moral virtue. (35) The middle-class empowered woman is economically independent. She maintains the features of grace and beauty, yet she is strong and definitely not passive, nor she is willing to accept being subdued: on the contrary, she can make use of violence in order to defend her freedom of choice (2007 hit film Chak De India is another instance of this). But this empowerment is integrated into the national project, becoming the new projection of strong power with a human face.
Mankekar has emphasized the connection between militaristic nationalism and the representation of gender, pointing out the complexity of women's position, requiring them to be at the same brave nationalists (ideologically proud of their male relatives leaving for battle) and loving wives or mothers (emotionally desperate for the loss of the male heroes who leave them helpless and alone). The pattern that individual happiness has to be sacrificed for the national cause is a topos of TV serials, and women are supposed to be the first promoters of this mentality. (36) It is again coincidental, but even more significant, that during the broadcast of the reality show Soumya Kaura decided to drop her participation to the contest, because "a high-profile kidnapping of an 11-year-old girl in her area meant that she had to put duty before destiny". The rhetoric of national security is here introduced, which lies at the very heart of the nationalist ideology, operating on parameters of inclusion and exclusion, and building itself upon perceptions of threat and enemy. The military ideology implies the precedence of military concerns to the social ones with values like hierarchy, discipline, obedience, control and centralization. The exercise of statehood vis-a-vis citizens and other nation states requires the potential use of force: the link between the bureaucratic rationality of the state and that of professional rationality of the military is clear.
In this discourse what seems to me particularly relevant is the connection between a sort of 'feminine militarism' and the projection of nation. This is not an isolated case: for example, another reason of national pride, much emphasized by the media, is the existence of the Mahila (Ladies) battalions: the Indian CRPF is the only Paramilitary Force in the world to have two battalions entirely staffed by women, (37) and since 2006 a woman-only unit, picking candidates from the country's paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force, was constituted as the first all-women team of United Nations peacekeeping group.
The projection of nation as it comes out of the 'Lead India' campaign is a competitive thing: the elite of a particular cultural group - the urban consuming middle class - are making a bid for autonomy and recognition, and advocate their right to represent the whole population of the nation. They are being mobilized around a particular goal: the recognition of the fact that business and marketing are the engine of the nation and that politics must be subdued by these new values. Imagination has a lot to do with it. In hard factuality, classes and communities merge into each other, because people intermarry and share customs, and the very notion of 'middle class' is referred to very different social groups. But people's imagination can be fired, through and by the mediascape, so that they come to believe in their own 'difference' and they are ready to mobilize for the dream of some future they believe they're destined to share. As it often happens, especially if they believe 'their people' are in peril, also women throw themselves fiercely into nationalist womanhood and become active participants in nationalist struggles.
Militarism and militarization are very closely linked to the nation state: according to the traditional rhetoric of the warrior and given the dependence of most national movements on military mobilization, the ideal man is not only a responsible father and head of household (and by extension, head of state, patriarch of the official religion) but is a military man, willing to bear arms bravely to defend his family, and by extension, defend the people. The competitive nature of the system of modern nations has made it very difficult to imagine one without armed forces. Moreover there is a relationship between nationalism and cultural homogenization, and an often acquiescent public can be subjected to social engineering through a rhetorical emphasis on equality and camaraderie, which is particularly suitable to the military. One can therefore establish "a triadic linkage between the language of egalitarianism, the practice of cultural homogenization and the experience of militarism". (38)
It goes without saying that militarism and militarization are deeply gendered phenomena.
But today women are being recruited in increasing numbers for many reasons: because military planners can't recruit enough men, and because some women need a job. The inclusion of minorities in the military system has a strong political value, because military organizations are more than just a war-fighting machine: they are a social and cultural site. (39) The military is considered to be the guardian of national identity and state sovereignty condensed in the 'national flag.' It plays an important role in defining national/nationalistic interests and can behave as the only institution capable of protecting the society, because it can claim a rhetorical trump card: national security.
The armed forces' participation policies have important implications for citizenship and national identity. The opening to women in this sphere is relevant, because gender does not only serve national identities but also constructs national identities themselves. The myth of uniqueness is at the basis of both militarist and nationalist ideology: courage, strength and capability are peculiar qualities of the specific national community, and this uniqueness is also marked by the uniform. (40)As for women, the adoption of a uniform implies a shift in visibility: the institutional parallel of women's stylish dresses, jewels and make up - the markers of their visibility - is women wearing uniform in the military, becoming the living form of institutional visibility. This seems to me perfectly represented In the Lead India reality show by the constant presence of Kiran Bedi.
Recruiting women to military is a requirement of a modernization ideal, is a sign of a modern nation, where women and men are understood as equal and cooperative citizens in the process of nation building, and people's defence institutionalized by the military is constructed as a democratic process, as a proof of the participation of the 'common people' vs. the rule of an elite. (41) But since military is constitutive of masculinity, women entering this field produce an erosion of traditional and conventional forms of masculinity, and require the construction of new ones. Such a change is a requirement also of changes in the nature of warfare: in the modern world muscle power has been replaced by brainpower and high-technology. As in the military field, in modern society at large professionalism and the professional ethos have become the new mantra. In the era of globalization masculine institutions and constructions like military and the nation-state are changing, and the transforming process is under the pressure of the rhetoric of professionalism and equality embedded in modernity. The militaristic terminology is adopted by the everyday use of language such as strategy, discipline, command and target: it is the rhetoric of civic spheres like economy, sports and politics. It is the same terminology used in the Amitabh Bachchan video introducing the show, defining the world a battlefield and the leader as a charioteer. If India has to lead, it has to be modern and strong, but it should also maintain the soft power that makes it appealing to the global scenario. These are exactly the qualities projected on the new militarist nationalist woman, an emblem of the new middle class shaping the nation.
Post scriptum with an updated conclusion
While revising this article for publication I felt a strong need for an update. April and May 2009 for Indians are bound to be very important months: the second season of the Indian Premier League is scheduled from April 19 to May 24, and polling to elect a new Lok Sabha will be staggered over five dates starting April 16, with counting due on May 16. The imagination of millions of people, therefore, will be captivated by two of India's major passions, and a nation starved of entertainment will spend the middle summer days and nights in the collective madness that generally accompanies these events. Political parties have used branding and advertising is on air, print or plastered on every piece of available space in the country. The electoral campaigning is wooing educated middle-class: in cities nearly 50% of people do not vote, and voters in the middle and upper classes have become increasingly apathetic toward polls. Therefore, parties, organizations and groups are trying to get to vote the middle and upper classes who can make 'educated choices'. Alongside traditional media including radio and television, they are launching initiatives geared toward raising awareness among the electorate, though the use of the web, and of mobile telephony. Some may think that local politicians are just trying to ape Obama (there is a part of truth in this), but the TOI 'Lead India' campaign is an indigenous experiment pre-dating the USA elections, and social branding has been flourishing since last year.
2008 was the year of 'cause brands': there has been an assortment of ads with social awakening, politics or elections as the central theme. The TOI launched another 'social' campaign, or 'nation building initiative': 'Teach India', which was connected to the 'Read India' initiative. (42) This too was a prized campaign, albeit on a lower level: it conquered a Grand Prix at the creative Abby Awards at Goafest 2009. The response was not so enthusiastic as for the 'Lead India' campaign and, in any case, it did not create a media hype. People were required to volunteer two hours per week to teach underprivileged children and adults. This scheme follows a model implemented in the USA, where educated citizens are encouraged to contribute to the public school system. But India is a country where free and equal education for all has not been realised for over 60 years, its public school system is weakened, and curriculum, teacher training and infrastructure need huge investments (not only monetary, but also in thought and energy). What this education system needs is not volunteers substituting for teachers, but real teachers. The campaign propagated education as a corporate philanthropic scheme more than a right, and this made it a gesture noble in intention, but that could even be counterproductive. The project targeted multiple stakeholders - NGOs, corporates, educational institutions, individuals; if we except the NGO sector, the mediascape has not been much affected by it.
The 'Jaago Re' (Wake up!) campaign was launched by Tata Tea Ltd. and Janaagraha in September 2008. It urges people to vote and be more responsible: "Not voting on election day is similar to being asleep", says the protagonist. The project, using an evolution of the typical political ads which ranged from portrayals of politicians in a light vein to tints of patriotism, aimed to start a voter registration drive in colleges and corporates in 35 cities across the country and register four million voters. Its advisory board includes former Chief Election Commissioner T.S. Krishnamurthy, Infosys founder Narayan Murthy, and Rang De Basanti director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra.
The concept of collective power was used also by Bharti Airtel Ltd, India's biggest mobile phone operator. The 2008 ad uses images of legendary astronomer-mathematician Aryabhatta, surgeon Sushruta and Mahatma Gandhi. "Just imagine what a billion of us can do. Together. When you stand for what you believe in, you can change the world. Proud to be Indian. Proud to be Bharti."
Then came Obama's election in the USA, and Mumbai 11/26. And finally, 2009, and election. It is an important election for India: terrorist attacks shook up the country, and a worldwide financial crisis threatens to derail its strong economic growth.
Politics in India is essentially local and India's voters elect their representatives based more on small local and regional issues, rather than on big national issues. The failure of the 2004 BJP's 'India Shining' campaign was partly due to its focussing on a wide national range, yet this 'failed' campaign seems to have set the pattern for Indian election campaigns since then. At that time the BJP focused on the urban first time voter, advertised heavily on print and television, and allocated 5% of its campaign budget to an e-campaign, renewing its campaign website, pushing out text messages, pre-recorded voice clips and emails to its database of 20 million e-mail users and 20 million phone users, and offering campaign-related mobile ringtones for download. Internet and mobile technologies have transformed election campaigning in India, and these days advertisers and politicians are facing the challenge of convincing voters, trying to find a simple and powerful idea able to make a profound impact on the target audience, including both people with very limited education and an Internet-savvy metropolitan audience. The average recipe for Indian 2009 electoral campaigning seems to be: spend 40-50% on print, 20% on outdoors, 15% on TV, 5%-10% on internet and mobile and the rest on radio, cinema theatres and on-ground activities. (43) The internet and mobile penetration in India has increased dramatically since 2004, from 75.5 million to 300 million for mobile, (44) and from 16 million to 80 million for the internet, (45) and some analysts think that within the next three years, about 200-250 million mobile subscribers would be using the mobile wireless services in some form or the other. (46)
The BJP put up a 360 degree campaign, inspired by Obama's campaign and is running an aggressive online ad campaign, expected to reach 75% of India's internet users. BJP planned also to send one billion SMS to about 250 million cellphone users, who are not enrolled in the Do-Not-Call registry. Overall, telecom operators expect to make an additional revenue of $10 million from an extra traffic of 3-4 billion SMS sent by all the political parties, apart from money from multimedia messages, songs and wallpapers.
The Indian National Congress, on the contrary, seems to be stuck in the web 1.0 era. None of the senior Congress leaders (Manmohan Singh, Rahul Gandhi, and Sonia Gandhi) possess a website and their URLs are owned by people who try to profit from other people's trademark by getting domain names registered in their names. (47) The only Congress candidate who seems to seriously leverage the web in his campaign, with presence on the social network, is author and former Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations Shashi Tharoor. (48) The CPI-M, the Samajvadi Party, and other regional parties have either set up or renewed their websites in the run up to the general elections, but they are limited to asking for donations and newsletter subscriptions, and none of them are using web 2.0 social media tools. (49)
Since 2004 elections the demographic profile of India's electoral base has changed. The importance of urban votes has increased in the electoral battlefield, partly as a result of the newly delimited constituencies as per the Delimitation (Amendment) Bill, 2008, but also because more than half of India's 1,150 million population is under 25. 42 million new voters have entered the electorate since 2004 and it is estimated that one in four eligible voters in the upcoming election will be under 30. And the young urban Indian, shaken by the 11/26 Mumbai terrorist attack, and inspired by Barack Obama's success in the US elections, is likely to step out to vote for the first time in India's recent electoral history. As a result, both BJP and Congress are targeting young, urban voters like never before. Also civil society groups are using digital tools to run voter registration and transparency campaigns. (50)
As interesting as all these initiatives are, the three most effective election campaigns in the 2009 Indian general elections seem to be run by corporate brands: the youth and the blogosphere are in love with the 'Jaago Re' campaign, which by now has also tied up with various TV channels to create micro campaigns like UTV Bindass 'Ungli Utha Vote Kar', based on the idea that youth is misdirected, as protesting young people are blaming others, not realising their responsibility. (51) The 'My Idea' campaign by Idea Cellular is borne out of the 'For the people by the people' campaign, where a lady politician, aided by her tech-savvy assistant Abhishek Bachchan, gathers the views of the citizens in her constituency using mobile phones. This 'participatory democracy' ad campaign asks people to submit an idea that can change India and to vote on the ideas submitted by others.
Of course, 'Lead India' too is back again. (52) In its new avatar, 'Lead India/ Bleed India' wants to enable the Indian electorate to make the right voting decision in the upcoming elections, by providing a platform for meaningful political debate and supporting the 'No Criminals in Politics' campaign. (53)
According to a recent 'Good Purpose' study by one of India's leading Public Relations firms, 90% Indians think it is important to purchase products and brands they perceive to be socially responsible. (54) The trust in institution in India shows a prevalence of media and business on government and NGOs, with a lower level in trust for Government vs. regional average. In the communication arena TV and newspapers dominate, but web-based media are slowly eating into TV, and local mainstream media and web-based channels are at 'Trust parity'. Whether 'Jaago Re', 'My Idea' and 'Lead India/ Bleed India' are really socially conscious campaigns or blatant attempts to attract customers is matter of opinion. But if engagement is the benchmark for success, these campaigns seem to be the most effective ones running in the election season in India. The forthcoming polls may be an interesting case of 'corporate democracy'.
*. The first avatar of this paper was presented at the Italindia Conference "Il sorgere dell'India come grande potenza e la sua proiezione sull'esterno: realtà, miti e immagini", Rome, June 12-13, 2008. A revised version was presented at the Fourth LUMS Social Sciences Conference "Media Growth: Global Trends, Social Impacts, Academic Concerns", Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), December 19-21, 2008. I would like to acknowledge the comments of the participants at those conferences.
1. According to the 2006 National Readership Study, the more read newspaper in India is the Hindi Dainik Jagran, with over 21 million readers. The TOI comes 11th on 18 in 'The 5 Million Club' dailies.
3. I draw on Arjun Appadurai's definition of mediascapes: "both the distribution of the electronic capabilities to produce and disseminate information (newspapers, magazines, television stations, and film-production studios), which are now available to a growing number of private and public interests throughout the world, and. .. the images of the world created by these media": Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis 1996, p. 35.
4. According to the NRS, measuring the proportion of the population accessing value-added-features like downloads, accessing news and cricket scores, SMS, at least once a week, the reach of this medium grew from 1.1% in 2005 to 2.7%, translating to nearly 22 million individuals. The proportion to the total number of mobile phone owners is 38% access value added features etc in 2006 vs. 13.9% in 2005, with much higher ratio in large cities and much higher usage levels among young urban audiences.
5. Rachel Dwyer, All You Want is Money, All You Need is Love (London: Cassell 2000); Rachel Dwyer and Christopher Pinney, eds., Pleasure and the Nation. The History, Politics and Consumption of Public Culture in India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press 2001).
6. For a study on TV production see Sujata Moorti, "Imaginary Homes, Transplanted Traditions. The Transnational Optic and the Production of Tradition in Indian Television" Journal of Creative Communications, 2, no. 1-2, (2007): 1-21.
7. Christiane Brosius, "Hindutva intervisuality: Videos and the politics of representation" Contributions to Indian Sociology 36 (2002), pp. 264-295; eadem, Empowering Visions. The Politics of Representation in Hindu nationalism. (London: Anthem Press 2005); Arvind Rajgopal, Politics after Television. Hindu Nationalism and the Reshaping of the Public in India. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2001); Philip Lutgendorf, "Ramayan: The Video" The Drama Review 34 no. 2 (1990), pp. 127-176; Sheldon Pollock, "Ramayana and Political Imagination in India" The Journal of Asian Studies 52 No. 2. (1993), pp. 261-297; Phyllis K. Herman, "Remaking Rama for the Modern Sightseer: It's a Small Hindu World after All", South Asian Popular Culture 1 no. 2 (2003), pp. 125 -140.
11. 'Chose the face of India': to be selected among Amartya Sen [Nobel-prize-winning economic thoughts], Amitabh Bachchan [cosmopolitan charm], Mahatma Gandhi [Gandhigiri ideals], Manmohan Singh [astute political and economic sensibilities], NR Narayana Murthy [the new-age entrepreneurial role model], and Sachin Tendulkar [sporting killer instinct].
12. Inspired by Kalam's book (Abdul A.P.J. Kalam and Y. S. Rajan, India 2020; a Vision for the New Millennium. [New Delhi: Penguin Books 1998]), Dr. N.B. Sudershan of Lead Foundation started to plan the march towards 'Swarna Bharati mataram' (as the theme song goes), the Golden India that will exist by 2020 thanks to youth and professionals. In October 2004 the project Lead India 2020 was launched, with the mission "...to initiate an agenda for the nation with ...[a] vision for 'Developed India 2020'...Lead India 2020 is a ..National Movement to lead India to lead the world by 2020 by igniting Children and Youth. LEAD means Leadership Awareness and Development of the youth through LEAD - Loss of Evil, Aware Divinity." The event comprised a Torch Relay Rally by A.P. Olympic Association, culminating in a ceremony held at L.B. Stadium in Hyderabad, attended by about 30,000 students from over 500 schools across the twin cities, with the participation of politicians (Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh Dr. Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, and Education Minister Smt. Rajya Laxmi) and Tollywood star Chiranjeevi. The project included a National Movement Essay Writing Competition for students of all Junior/Degree/Polytechnic and Engineering Colleges (source: Lead India 2020 and ReachoutHyderabad.com).
15. For example, 'Mr. multiplex' Ajay Bijli (Chairman and MD of PVR Pvt Ltd, pioneer of the revolution in cinema exhibition and distribution), educationist Abha Adams (Principal of the prestigiuos Shri Ram School in Delhi), cardiac surgeon Dr Naresh Trehan (Padma Bhushan Award 2001, founder of the Escorts Heart Institute and Research Center (EHIRC), New Delhi), and former Miss India and entrepreneur Manpreet Brar-Walia (who won the Miss India crown in 1995 and was first runner-up at the 1995 Miss Universe pageant).
16. On the relation between beauty queens and globalization see Neville Hoad, "World Piece: What the Miss World Pageant Can Teach about Globalization" Cultural Critique 58 (2004), pp. 56-81. On the Indian ascent to the beauty queen scenario see Huma Ahmed-Ghosh, "Writing the Nation on the Beauty Queen's Body. Implications for a "Hindu" Nation" Meridians: feminism, race, transnationalism 4 no. 1 (2003), pp. 205-227.
17. "Democracy Idol", The Economist, September 8, 2005; "TV talent contest 'too democratic' for China's censors", The Times, August 29, 2005.
18. How you spell money for reality shows, by Mahesh Peri, February 24, 2006.
19. Leela Fernandes, "The Politics of Forgetting: Class Politics, State Power and the Restructuring of Urban Space in India", Urban Studies, 41 no. 12 (2004), pp. 2415-2430; Shirish B Patel, Alpa Sheth, and Neha Pamchal, "Urban Layouts, Densities and the Quality of Urban Life" EPW 42 no. 26 (2007), pp. 2725-2736; Judy Whitehead, Nitin More, "Revanchism in Mumbai? Political Economy of Rent Gaps and Urban Restructuring in a Global City" EPW 42 no. 26 (2007), pp. 2428-2434.
20. Tim Scrase, "The "New" Middle Class in India: A Re-assessment", coombs.anu.edu.au/SpecialProj/ASAA/biennial-conference/2006/Scrase-Tim-ASAA2006.pdf
21. 1) Contestant with the fastest finger on the buzzer got to answer questions posed to all the finalists. 2) The 'bluff round'. Each finalist picked a judge, from whom the anchorman asked a question. The judge would provide an answer, after which the finalist had to guess whether it was correct or a bluff. 3) The audio-visual round 4) The 'People's Pulse' round: the contestants were asked yes/no questions about social and political issues. If their reply coincided with the one given by the majority in a popular survey, they passed, otherwise they lost. 5) The candidates tried to impress the jury and the voting audience with their speaking skills and grasp of issues. A video clip was shown to each contestant on a particular topic and s/he had to comment on it for a minute. Special guests evaluated the candidate's arguments and award him or her 'votes' out of a maximum of ten. 6) Achievers are supposed to get difficult tasks done easily: a time limit of 10 hours was given to them to fulfil assigned difficult tasks. A psychiatrist provided insights into their management styles after the mission was fulfilled. The jury voted on specific parameters like organizational skills, strategy, execution and resourcefulness. 7) The contestants were judged for the tasks they had solved under 'Mission Samadhan': they had been given a real problem - all real-life issues -, picked from newspaper reports, which they had to solve within two-three days using the resources available to them. 8) The contestants had to give a minute-long speech on a topic of national and social relevance, and after each speech, the select audience posed questions to the speaker, then the judges had their say and gave their votes. 9) 'Mission Zero Hour', wherein each contestant assumed the role of a minister and then faced questions regarding their ministry. 10) The contestants had to give an introspective account on what they thought their weaknesses are. 11) The finalists had to present their election manifestos to a special jury. In their manifesto, they had to talk about five issues, which according to them are of immediate concern for the country. The jury grilled them on their choices.
22. M.K. Raghavendra, "Globalism and Indian Nationalism" EPW 41 no. 16, (2006), pp. 1503-1505.
26. Ogilvy & Mather. In 1988 he wrote the Indian national integration video Mile sur mera tumhara, produced by the Doordarshan promoted Lok Seva Samchar Parisad. Featuring some prominent singers, sport persons, film and TV stars, filmmakers and visual artists, it became an instant classic, reaching to the status of quasi anthem.
28. William Mazzarella, Shoveling Smoke. Advertising and Globalization in Contemporary India (Durham, NC: Duke University Press 2003).
29. Rajendra Misra has joined BJP for the 2009 elections.
30. Jenny Sharpe,"Gender, Nation, and Globalization in Monsoon Wedding and Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge" in Meridians: feminism, race, transnationalism - Volume 6, Number 1, 2005, pp. 58-81.
31. Heather Timmons, "Telling India's Modern Women They Have Power, Even Over Their Skin Tone", New York Times, May 30, 2007.
32. Punjab Director-General of Police in the 80s, renowned for fighting militants during the hey days of insurgency.
33. He exposed very big scams, including the one in the Unit Trust of India, quit after battling entrenched corruption, and is now a crusader for police reforms. On his first book - Carnage by Angels, a fictionalized account of corruption in the police force - was based a film: Police Force - An Inside Story, directed by Dilip Shukla (2004), it stars Akshay Kumar and Raveena Tandon as the leading protagonists.
34. This was a Doordarshan serial written and interpreted by activist Kavita Choudhry in the 1980s and early 1990s, so popular that it really "could change the mindset of parents towards their young aspiring girls" (The Tribune, June 1, 2001). The serial was inspired by the real life of Kavita Choudhry's sister Kanchan, who was the first woman director general of police in Uttaranchal, and, incidentally, they are also relatives of Kiran Bedi's. On the serials Udaan I and Udaan II see Mankekar, cit., pp. 137-149.
35. Ibidem, pp. 113-116.
36. Ibidem, pp. 259-288.
37. The first battalion was raised in 1986 with its headquarters at New Delhi. The second battalion came into existence in 1996 at Gandhinagar, Gujarat.
38. Daniele Conversi, ''We are all equals!' Militarism, homogenization and 'egalitarianism' in nationalist statebuilding (1789-1945)', Ethnic and Racial Studies, 31:7 (2008), pp. 1286 - 1314.
39. Ronald R. Krebs, "One Nation under Arms? Military Participation Policy and the Politics of Identity" Security Studies 14 no. 3 (2005), pp. 529-564.
40. Şule Toktaş, "Nationalism, militarism and gender politics: women in the military" Minerva: Quarterly Report on Women and the Military 20 (2002).
41. Barton C. Hacker, "From Military Revolution to Industrial Revolution: Armies, Women and Political Economy in Early Modern Europe", in Eva Isaksson, ed., Women and the military system. Proceedings of a symposium arranged by the International Peace Bureau and Peace Union of Finland (New York: Harvester - Wheatsheaf 1988), pp. 11-29.
44. Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Annual Report 2007-08. What is even more astounding is that according to the Department of Telecommunications of India the number of mobile phones in India increased by 113 million in 12 months (December 2007-2008), that is a 48.5% growth rate.
46. Nikita Upadhyay, "3G set to propel mobile internet penetration in India". If we compare the percentage of internet and mobile penetration to the total population, then India is not a strong performer in terms of Internet usage, with below 10% of the population and below 2% of households regularly using the Internet (compared to 20% of households or more in countries like Turkey and Chile, although all these countries have much higher income levels). On the mobile front, India's mobile cellular subscribers are nearly 20% of the total population (but compare to mobile penetration rates of 80% or more in Turkey and Chile). Tthis is a reflection of the reality of India's vast population, many of whom do not benefit from the economic boom that is so evident in urban areas. While some might complain that judging India as a whole, and not by the pockets of ICT excellence that it undoubtedly possesses "punishes" India for its vast population, but I think it simply reflects the fact that India still has a developmental mountain to climb.
52. Lead India.
53. People's Manifesto.
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