Indian politics & the strategy at play (re-structuring of the past as a way to ensure a strong future foot hold):
While a lot has been written about the communication, branding and campaign skills of our Prime Minister Modi, what I also see at play is a legacy dissonance strategy. Since Independence India has only seen the Gandhi family leading the nation.
Hence contextually, the average Indian associates Indian governance with Gandhi, Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi/Manmohan Singh. Lal Bahadur Shahstri is occasionally remembered, PV Narasimha Rao all but washed away from memory.
If you check with any Indian below 25 years of age, they will hardly remember LBS, PV and most definitely not VP Singh & others.
Congress/Gandhi name is synonymous with governance and owns TOM & aided recall. Any other party after its 1st term has to face incumbency in India. However, in the face of concerns about that government, the average voter seeks security & comfort in the Gandhi name and hence nostalgia is a huge threat for any non-congress party.
For the Indian voter…
“Return to default settings” = elect a Gandhi’s led government.
Brands & branding experts would love to have this kind of strategic muscle. It is a strategic dream, not even realised in the lifetime of a brand usually.
Enter Modi, large mandate…total control in decades. While “culturally progressive & economically aggressive” have been his winning mantras and he has been busy brandishing economic agendas and social agendas…for the first time ever, we see strategic dissonance at play.
The Strategic dissonance steps:
(1) The father of the nation Mahatma Gandhi is left completely untouched. In the branding hierarchy he is higher than Nehru, hence a direct association with the original source is being crafted. Mahatma Gandhi & Gandhi political family name are different is being subtly pushed. Also it makes sense to leverage the ahimsa global image of the Mahatma.
(2) Subtle shadows are being cast over chacha Nehru (via comparisons of somebody else could have possibly been a better 1st PM of India – however taking great care not to go beyond that and accuse in any direct fashion).
(3) Alternate political giants from India’s past are being resurrected and built in the public eye & the mind, those whose legacy percolates down to the BJP more than to the congress. Hence constructing an alternative narrative of the past. Sardar Patel, JP Narayan etc; are just some of the past-stars being deployed for this cause. We also see this being done at a regional/ethnic level with Veer Savarkar being another example. AM sure this is just the beginning.
(4) There is a huge trend of re-discovering our buried or erased past that is happening at a people-level. The British have manipulated our history and attacked our culture, making us feel it is inferior are some of the opinions floating around. Immediately post-independence, the average India was hungry for survival, progress and status. If we map India on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, after 20 years of economic liberalization – a good chunk of Indians have reached ‘status’ and are now looking for ‘self-actualization’. While a larger chunk are seeking status at an identity level. Status for some & self-actualization for others seems to start with the discovery / re-discovery of self. Re-discovery of self usually starts with the examination of the past (collective & individual) and India currently is enamored with re-discovery of its past…with a strong bias towards the glory part of it (with strong rejection of anything which is not so good/great about it). India is in search of an Identity again. Hence the change in syllabus, the re-discovery of leaders from the past etc’ will be consumed with a voracious appetite. Hence the timing for this strategic dissonance creation, could not have been more apt.
(5) In this context, if we do a brand mapping based on people perceptions, the Congress shall definitely not have strong foot print in cultural & local heritage of India. BJP has a much larger footprint. Congress is seen as a party with more western values and hence rediscovery of past heritage cannot be owned by them as powerfully as by the BJP.
Hence for the first time since the history of the colonially independent India, a mammoth strategic initiative to create dissonance with the Gandhi family name to ensure a strong alternate narrative of our history is under-foot.
Since the Nehru family appropriated the name “Gandhi” for themselves and hence superbly activated their brand core with the imagery of the father of the nation and gave themselves an indomitable advantage…there is a counter strategic initiative at play.
As a strategist, the play & the counter play are simply breath taking to observe. Behavior change practitioners such as me working on brands feel dwarfed at the richness, depth and scale of this play and in a way are envious of the strategists who get to do these kind of plays.
Brand & consumer strategy seems “mere”, compared to the sheer pleasure of crafting something at this level. Tsk!
Well, I am neither for the Congress or the BJP in this instance & this is purely a piece from a Strategic Planner observing and admiring the strategic play and nothing else.
For the love of finding patterns, connecting the dots and discovering larger strategic plays in motion…for interesting times ahead.
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