IS VAJPAYEE A BRAND?

Modern commerce seems to have arrived in Indian politics in a big way; we are speaking of sales pitch', market trends', feel good factor' and now brand equity'. Even when we set off on traditional political programmes like Jan Sampark' it is reported as a road show'. Curiously many of these phrases cannot even be translated into Hindi and other Indian Languages. It is either myopia or arrogance of a small segment of India's population to impose a vocabulary and language that cannot connect the whole of India. Yet since these discussions are dominated by this new language of politics let me address the issue of the incumbent (and hopefully not the future) Prime Minister in it the new diction.

So is Shri. Vajpayee a brand? He has been around a long time and he has carried himself with a special style, fortunately somewhat distinct from that of his colleagues from the rest of the Sangh Parivar. He has therefore been useful to the Parivar in many ways. But let in not forget that he did write to Smt. Indira Gandhi from prison during the emergency offering accommodation in return for consideration. Again, he was part of the Ayodhya movement but not astride the rath or on that critical day of 6 December 1992 in the company of Mahant Paramhans, Uma Bharati, L.K. Advani, et al. He looked concerned at the bloodbath in Gujarat but did precious little to make his party colleagues and the state administration accountable. These are not ingredients of a brand “ no permanent face, no consistent message, no clear qualities, and no clear performance. Flip Flop is no brand.

The point is not that Vajpayee can win an election for the BJP/NDA. It is not even that the BJP thinks he is the only one who can. To be a brand there has to be something that leaves a permanent impression. In politics that means both style and substance. Kennedy and Clinton had it in the US; Churchill and Thatcher had it in the UK; Mandela had it in South Africa; Pandit Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi had it in India. We still speak of a Nehruvian culture or a school of thought many years after his death. Will there be devoted followers of the Vajpayee style and substance after him? It seems very doubtful considering the impatience with which an alternative style and substance (read L.K. Advani) are waiting to take over. Brand is something greater than the packaging that contains it. Unfortunately despite steering an unwieldy coalition for five years, the Prime Minister looks more like packaging material than a brand.

The closest word for a brand' in politics is charisma. Some are born with it, some earn it, and now some even have it thrust upon them (because of caste and communalism). A little below charisma is the charm of some personalities. But often all one has is an ability to manage “ contradictions and even hypocrisy. Politics they say is the art of the possible. I am afraid Shri. Vajpayee is a very successful artist of all possibilities, but not a brand. Salman Khurshid

27/12/2003



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