I’m standing under a billboard that’s literally a two-minute walk away from my house in East Delhi. It’s a sparkling morning and the late-winter sun is illuminating this big poster that strangely bears the “Surf extra” whiteness of a Japanese or Korean white goods item. Japanese actually, since the election campaign poster advertising Rahul Gandhi as a leader was conceived and executed by Dentsu India, the Indian wing of the Japanese advertising and PR giant whose tagline – “The most future-obsessed agency network in the world” could have easily been tweaked to “The most future-obsessed political party in the world” for its biggest client in India, the Indian National Congress.
The tagline for the Congress campaign poster outside my house and replicated all across the country is “Mein Nahin, Hum” (Not I, But We). This, I presume, refers not so much to a last-ditch effort to shift the blame for the Congress-led Central government’s messy affairs over the last five years from the owners of the family firm to a larger “faceless” group of stakeholders, but to cast Rahul Gandhi as some kind of “first among equals”. This, of course, is like Madhuri Dixit dancing on the stage at a Samajwadi Party function with all those extras as co-performers – and her insisting that people didn’t come only to see her but to watch everyone perform.
So there he stands, arms folded, trying to look as pleasant and approachable as he can muster outside a CII or FICCI setting. He is flanked by nine “ordinary citizens” — (from left) a “Northeasterner”, a (lady) doctor, a wealthy Muslim (nice watch!), a (North Indian) woman, a middle-aged middle class professional, a farmer, an adivasi lady, a factory worker (with safety helmet on) and a (Himachali?) lady wearing a scarf. All of them are smiling more effortlessly than Rahul in the middle and in front. But then who wouldn’t, modelling for the Congress Party to be photoshopped into a picture with Rahul G. Not too much needs to be read into this, but everyone barring the doctor (she is holding a stethoscope), the farmer and the adivasi lady also have their arms folded.
I first saw this ad in the papers on January 24, 2014. One of the papers in which it appeared bearing a half-page Samsung mobile phone ad below the “Mein Nahin, Hum” half-page ad. The Samsung ad line could also have theoretically been tweaked with the words “Samsung Galaxy Grand 2” replaced by “Congress Party”: “What if you followed the wind to see where it goes? Or lay down to count the stars? It would feel grand, wouldn’t it? That’s exactly how the new Congress Party will make you feel, with features that will turn ordinary moments extraordinary.”
But the Congress’ print ad carried a long slugline which the billboards don’t carry as it would be a problem to read it from a distance: “Kisi bhi ek haath mey koyi jaadu ki chhari nehi hoti ki bas ghumaye aur ho gayi tarakki. Hum sabko saath milkar ek mahan Bharat banana hain. Isliye Congress ka udyeshya hai har haath mey shakti, taaki har kisi ko miley tarakki ke purey awsar.” (No one hand wields some kind of magic wand that when waved can bring progress. We all have to join our hands to make a great India. This is why the Congress’ intention is to invest power in every hand, so that together everyone can get the full opportunities of progress.) It’s a nice message, highlighting the party’s inclusive philosophy. It even makes me want to join the party, by which I mean joining it figuratively and not joining the Congress Party.
The billboards do share the smaller slogan of the print ads that encapsulate what the absent slugline says: “Har haath shakti, har haath tadakki” (Every hand is power, every hand is progress). The Congress party colours light up the high-contrast black and white composite photograph.
A Hindustan Times report cleverly spotted an interesting bit about the campaign poster on its website on January 24 and which was reproduced in its print edition a day later on its front page. Along with photographic evidence, the reporter pointed out that the line “Mein nahin, hum” was used by Narendra Modi during his One Team, One Vision, One Mission: Team Gujarat drive in Gujarat in February 2011.
But that’s okay. Frankly, the Congress haath-hand symbol and mention in the copy fits in better with the “five fingers make one hand” imagery of teamwork. So even if Modi’s team came up with the “Mein nahin, hum” line first, like the BJP can’t be faulted for trying to make Sardar Patel “their own”, the Congress too needs to be credited for running with a good line that can comfort those worried about megalomaniacs and their kissing cousins – sycophants. I’m not too sure though whether Congress spokesperson Shoba Oza should have responded to the BJP’s charges of the Congress being copycats with the line, “The slogan is not anyone’s parental property”, considering one is talking about the Congress trying to dispel the notion of the party being a parental property.
It’s a nice, clean, pleasing white billboard in my neighbourhood and for that I’m thankful to the Congress vice president and the nine people helping him out. But perhaps, if I was part of the Dentsu India creative team, I would have pitched for a slogan that kept the Congress ‘hand” analogy and underlined the need for everyone to pitch in for the continuing nation-building project and emphasised the power of self-sufficiency and not having to depend on anyone else by the cracking aam aadmi-friendly line, “Apna haath, Jagannath‘ (Your own hand, Jagannath). But then, I wasn’t a part of the Dentsu India team….
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