Democracy with universal suffrage, regular elections and presence of numerous political parties has flourished in India. It has deep roots and growing mass participation, as evidenced by one of the highest voting percentage levels in the world. Marginal farmers, disadvantaged rural population, women, dalits, minorities are known for vigorous participation at every level of the democratic process. Yet it may be argued that they still reduce to commoditised votes in the hands of traditional competing elites who thus perpetuate their power and protect turf. Genuine democracy, where subaltern groups advance and flourish, remains a utopia. This, despite the fact that the very same high participation groups—dalits, backward castes, tribals and minorities—are the brute majority of poor Indians. This mobilisation and activity yields them little and they continue to be deluded and exploited by elite political formations. They are forever looking to choose the lesser evil with their vote.
My position is that these political groups are unable to leverage their numerical majority to achieve and retain power because they lack marketing resources and brand-building fire power. It is this handicap that disallows a larger identity to crystallise and renders them unable to become contenders with a pan-India appeal. They lack the means to promote themselves across India. These groups are at a perpetual disadvantage as they do not have any national political platform that is branded, evocative and vote accretive. Two recent exceptions, both short-lived—the BSP in UP and the Lalu phenomenon in Bihar—serve to illustrate how explosive potential matures into a stunted reality because of marketing atrophy, inconsistent and incoherent branding, and poor, tired and clichéd messaging.
The brand simply fails to live up to voter expectations. In India, the peasant castes comprising 75% of population and 65% of workforce are surviving on 11% of national income. This is the reason why Jats, Gurjars, Marathas, Kapus, among others, resort to violence and agitations to secure reservations in ever shrinking government jobs. India’s much-celebrated democracy only amounts to periodic elections where votes decide who comes to power. It does not mean our democracy is ingrained in a spiritual sense. Democracy hasn’t made us a less polarised, more equitable or less caste-ridden society. Our feudal ethos remains unchanged. Further, legislative and parliamentary sovereignty is compromised by the personality cults across various political formations. Our executive machinery, in states as at the Centre, has become Presidential whereas our polity is Parliamentary but in form, not in spirit. India will miss its chance at world leadership and under deliver on its vast potential unless the majority of its people are in the vanguard of its federal polity with a singular political identity.
I look upon the grand Indian political drama only from a marketer’s eyes. We live in an India where it is easier than ever to reach people but harder than ever before to engage them. Every kind of disruption imaginable to a stable marketing mix is active, be it technological or demographic. India is the youngest country on the planet and on its way to being the most populous—40 crore Indians were born in this new millennium. Each year they will join the voting population. Naturally, the tools, means and modalities of creating and consuming content will, I believe, permanently and irreversibly change our society and polity within a decade. Those who aspire to rule by leveraging new coalitions of larger groupings must take marketing communication far more seriously than merely crafting slogans and limericks. Its role has to be seen in light of its fullest purpose, namely that of creating and managing a web of associations—overt and subliminal—and being sharply focused on the most important tasks.
The period since the drumbeat for the 2014 general elections started has been a time of unprecedented brand building in Indian politics. Never before were conventional admen-style campaigns attempted at such a scale and outlay. A whole new generation of regional and national leaders emerged. Core ideologies spawned credible as well as dubious variants. Many stalwarts rode into the sunset. But not even one political formation of suvarna non-dwij communities or dalits has expanded its footprint or increased its share of power in the last decade. This failing will become more of an existential threat as both the BJP and Congress look to co-opt these groups and claim their natural leadership within their organisations.
Amalgamation and rapid scaling up of marketing outreach to all prospects—those available and aspiring—is therefore a matter of survival. A clear vision and sense of purpose needs to be articulated, which may lead to a conscious welding together of like-placed communities beyond caste and kinship structures due to a commonality of interest. This cooperation, compromise, accommodation and bargaining within the constituent groups must be dynamic and ongoing. It will ensure fracture-free momentum.
Authentic consistency is the spine of any marketing programme. Beyond that, symbolism and ritualism build a higher level of affiliation. Acquiring social capital in the political and cultural fields is difficult because the dwijs dominate the administration, media and policy-making institutions. The suvarnas non-dwij, dalits, OBCs, minorities and tribals have a negligible presence there. Hence their own creation of cultural symbolism should be given wide currency within the groupings. “Jiskee jitnee sankhyaa bharee, uskee utnee bhageedari” (higher the number, bigger the representation) was a demand of Bahujan politics that resonated with many. Alas! This will happen only when superlative marketing achieves a level of response that dwarfs the response to “Acche din.”
By Shubhranshu Singh