BJP and the India Shining campaign

Published: April 6, 2013
The writer is a columnist. He is also a former editor of the Mumbai-based English newspaper Mid Day and the Gujarati paper Divya Bhaskar

The writer is a columnist. He is also a former editor of the Mumbai-based English newspaper Mid Day and the Gujarati paper Divya Bhaskar

A decade ago, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) assumed it would win the elections on the back of India Shining and called early elections. India Shining was the campaign executed brilliantly by Nirvik Singh of Grey Worldwide. It told Indians that they were a Great Power and a middle-income nation.

The problem, of course, was that we were neither. And the other thing was that the shining aspect was mainly in the BJP’s head. In the three years before the campaign, India’s GDP had grown 4.4 per cent (2000-01), six per cent (2001-02) and 3.8 per cent (2002-03). Hardly the sort of record that should have made voters ecstatic about the party.

India Shining was a hit advertising campaign that didn’t have a product to sell.

But Pramod Mahajan (the BJP’s smartest next generation leader before Narendra Modi) was convinced that the time had arrived for a positive, nationalist election campaign. He was wrong.

In 2009, the Congress could have campaigned on India Shining because they actually had the achievement. In the four years before the election, India grew 9.5 per cent (2005-06), 9.6 per cent (2006-07), 9.3 per cent (2007-08) and 6.7 per cent (2008-09).

But despite this, the Congress chose not to campaign on India Shining. It projected itself as the party of the poor and campaigned on the strength of legislation, such as the right to work scheme, which assured the poor 100 days of work, the Right to Information, which addressed ordinary corruption, and so on.

Some analysts, like Swaminathan Aiyar, believe that it wasn’t this campaign advertising itself as the party of the common man, but the economic growth that actually won the Congress the 2009 election.

It is so difficult to gather data on voting patterns in India that we cannot say if this is necessarily true. In my opinion, the Congress itself has two ways of looking at it. The Sonia Gandhi-led traditionalists believe that it was mainly the laws aimed at the poor that won the day. The Manmohan Singh-led modernists believe that it was mainly the economic growth with some elements of the laws for the poor.

The BJP now faces a Gujarat Shining moment. Should it run a positive campaign around Modi’s fine economic achievements? That becomes inevitable in the event of his becoming candidate for prime minister. I have written before in this space that I do not think he will become prime ministerial candidate, and I still believe this. But let us assume that with his recent elevation into the BJP’s central parliamentary board, he will, at least, become the focus of the party’s campaign.

Many in the BJP, like actress Smriti Irani, do not tire of telling us that Modi is the only man ever in Indian history to use development as the issue, as he did in Gujarat’s elections. Will his joining the party’s national team bring this positiveness to the 2014 campaign? It will be interesting to see because the experience of India Shining will be fresh for many others in the BJP.

The important fact here is that the key asset Modi brings to the party in New Delhi is the urban youth and the middle class voter. It cannot be denied that for large numbers of these, he is an attractive figure, whom they want to see leading India. For them, talk of high economic growth and efficient government is more important than the social sector schemes that the Congress focuses on, which concern the rural and semi-urban poor.

It seems quite certain that the Congress campaign will again focus on its delivery to this section of Indians. These include things like direct cash transfers for food and fertiliser instead of subsidies, and the Right to Education, under which private schools are being forced to reserve seats for the poor. Even if it had wanted to, the Congress cannot campaign on its economic performance because this time, it has not been great, for whatever reason.

This means the space is available for the BJP to project itself, under Modi, as the party of the middle class and also the party of economic development and growth.

Will they grasp it? Or will the ghost of India Shining spook the BJP’s headquarters?

Published in The Express Tribune, April 7th, 2013. 

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Reader Comments (25)

  • sabi
    Apr 7, 2013 - 12:08AM

    Akar patel,
    Should I believe you that India is not shining or indian commentaters who would hit you from all side for telling lies.and bashing India on foreign magazine.


  • Arijit Sharma.
    Apr 7, 2013 - 3:42AM

    Shining India or not, the point to realise is that the Gandhi/Nehru gene pool does not have the chops required to guide India.


  • heera
    Apr 7, 2013 - 5:15AM

    And you didnt tell that in the name of poor ,once again congress is ready to loot and bankrupt India .


  • Amir
    Apr 7, 2013 - 6:17AM

    @sabi : You can believe what makes you happy. Why don’t you visit that place and look for yourself? Personally, I would take India smiling over India shining.


  • Raj Kafir
    Apr 7, 2013 - 8:15AM

    Dr Manmohan Singh has disappointed many of us ( educated Indians ). Though Mr Modi is not an ideal choice, but do we have a better candidate either in Congress or in Opposition for the top job?


  • ashish
    Apr 7, 2013 - 8:43AM

    you are right. 50 percent of indian popultaion is poor which needs subsidized food and other govt schemes. bjp is concentrating on middle class which does not come out on voting day and has diverse ideological views.

    also modi comes out as polarising figure while rahul gandhi does not. modi is not vajpayee.
    india is 20 yrs behind the time when elections will be decided on middle class votes.
    currently rural areas will decide who will be pm.


  • Rakib
    Apr 7, 2013 - 9:12AM

    Reg India Shining: If one goes beyond party politics,cheap jingoism, neighbour’s Schadenfreude, and general viciousness, it may be worthwhile to consider this phrase in the light of virtues of positive cues, autosuggestion, self-fulfilling prophecies & power of attracting good fortune. For some, a swagger covers up many a stagger; if you can fake it you can make it. Aged Indians generally used to feel bad about feeling good & this campaign was a departure from such defeatist, negative thinking. To that extent it had great appeal. However, politically it did not work. As a slogan & political gimmick it was a disaster.(older gimmicky slogan “Garibi Hatao” with inherent future promise, albeit hollow, was much more effective.). Fault of “Shining” lay in declaring it as a done deed instead of work-in-progress.. It would have worked better if campaign was aimed at an ambitious future rather than a questionable present where the shine was already robbed of sheen. Cynical politicians know that promise is more attractive than performance. Hope is kinder than experience.


  • Gary
    Apr 7, 2013 - 10:26AM

    @ sabi

    India is shining.. so don’t worry about India,
    worry about what you are exploding everyday..

    Aakar’s point was India was not shining in 2002-2003 during the election campaign year..

    learn to read articles correctly or enroll yourself in elementary level English


  • Naveen
    Apr 7, 2013 - 10:43AM

    @author better check the facts on GOI publication and look for reason of growth in the last decade and compare the growth rate of BJP ruled states.Policy paralysis and dual power centres are the reasons for it.You can say whatever you want,but as a nation we will be unfazed,its the idea of BHARAT that is important and we will surely achieve that,no matter how stiff situation is.You will be writing a same pice in 2022 probaly complaining smthing else and the pseudo saga will continue.Recommend

  • Karma
    Apr 7, 2013 - 11:02AM


    India doesn’t shine only for its economic growth. However, Akar is right in a limited way. India has had stuttering Eco growth. And has way too much poverty to celebrate anything.

    However, a dynastic rule worshipped like Akaar won’t understand one thing. India didn’t vote for Gandhi family, they voted in 2004 for their disappointment with BJP and 2009 with hope of better policies by Manmohan Singh. Now that UPa has betrayed them, they will vote it out.

    Bottom line, India is inclined to reward parties giving high growth, and 2004 and 2009 were proof of that. Now that congress has faltered to provide growth India will rebook at BJP.


  • Gp65
    Apr 7, 2013 - 11:44AM

    Indian economic growth has slowed down in recent years. Some of it has to do with the global economy. Rest has to do with Congress incompetence. Most of the states that ads growing fast in the last 5 years are all NDA ruled states not UPA ruled states. NDA = BJP and allies. UPA = Cpngress and allies.


  • True Nationalist and Securalist
    Apr 7, 2013 - 12:18PM

    India shinning campaign by BJP failed they were booted out by aam admi. Their tall claims then made by Vajpayee, Advani didnt cut ice with electorate,as the claims were far away from reality. Same thing happens now..BJp hoping to ride the mice of Namo , based on his tall claims of so-called economic development of Gujarat. Gujarat has a honour of highest debt than any state in India. This shows that BJP’s govt at Gujarat borrowed money to spend ..more than it generated revenue. Even after high borrowing and huge debt built-up ( living beyond means)..Gujarat remains way behind in Maharashtra in terms of GDP..even in per capita income..Gujarat is languishing some where in middle of ranking list of States. even growth rate of GDP of Gujarat is way behind Bihar!!! BJP can once again can try this trick on people of India again, but they are bound to crushed to dust at hustings. It was under Nehru ..India got ISRO, BARC, was under Indira Gandhi ..Green and white revolution took place and not to forget Pokhran 1 ..under Rajiv Gandhi India has telecom revolution..under Rao and Manmohan Singh India has taste of liberalisation I and II. what did BJP give.. Kandhar, demoltion of Babri masjid..! Time for BJP to retire senile Advani , Jaitleys, Sushmas..Modies, Singhs…


  • Siddharth Pandey
    Apr 7, 2013 - 12:57PM

    Decent article. But lacks depth. No doubt about it the BJP suffered due to this ridiculous campaign. But there were other reasons the BJP lost the plot. In 2004 BJP lost 42 out of 56 urban constituencies in India. In 2009 they lost even more. In my own city in the last 2 elections the BJP-SENA combine has won just one seat!! In 4 states, two massive ones (Tamil Nadu and WB) the BJP did not win a single seat.Clearly the middle class and an increasingly young voter base is not being able to relate to the BJP leadership or it’s ideology of Mandir and Hindutva.
    It is an anomaly the BJP has seen and has tried to correct in its new Parliamentary Board. Young leaders and a pro-business Modi are the new faces. However, the entire Board has been packed with RSS and Modi confidantes and purged of moderates and Non-RSS background leaders like Sinha and Jaswant Singh. Unfortunately for the BJP thus, it’s one step forward and 2 steps back.
    As for the INC, yes the UPA 2 has been an utter disaster . But if the important bills that are in the pipeline get passed I must say it will have an election manifesto that might be the envy of others. Right to homestead, Right to food, Cash Transfers, New Manufacturing Policy, New Anti Rape law, Telecom Policy, maybe even Lokpal. Who knows. But the most important bill and which might just be a game changer is Land acquisition Bill. If these are passed among others, the incumbent might just hold on!!


  • Shiv
    Apr 7, 2013 - 2:06PM

    India is shining, and there are many stars in the constellation: Suresh Kalmadi, Robert Vadra, Anthony, Raja and Chidambaram, Jaiswal of Coalgate fame, now MNREGA and so on shining brightly on the shameless sky of India


  • True Nationalist
    Apr 7, 2013 - 2:51PM

    Shinning stars of BJP..Bangaru Laxman, Reddy bros- Sushma Swaraj. Modi of Godhra carnage, Advani of Babrimasjid demolition, Gadkari “drive”n money launderer, MG vaidya with Gas Connections…!!


  • Parvez
    Apr 7, 2013 - 3:08PM

    99% of the comments appear to be Indian and reflect a mixed bag of opinions.
    As an outsider, the impression I got from my friend who just yesterday returned from visiting her home town of Allahabad after 18 years was thoroughly impressed with what she saw. Another friend who visits Hyderabad every few years has the same story. You can label it what you like but the important thing is that the direction seems to be right……..all the rest is politics and should be seen as such.


  • abhi
    Apr 7, 2013 - 4:40PM

    While many like Aakar try to claim that India shining slogan was a failure, but if you look closely the Slogan was actually liked by many. Congress tried hard with their garibi hatao (congress ka haath aam admi ke saath) type of campaign and due to bad luck of India and some identity (cast and religion based) politics played by congress they were able to marginally defeat NDA. The GDP growth figure during UPA rule are totally hollow as most of it is coming from free flow of funds through easy credit which resulted in hyper inflation. MMS being an economist should have known how to handle the finances but he failed miserably and now he is trying to blame global factors.


  • BlackJack
    Apr 7, 2013 - 5:16PM

    Your moderator appears to be blocking comments based on the person making them – which also means that he/ she is probably not even bothering to read the comments to figure out if they adhere to your policy or not. This has been going on for a while now and is unfortunate.


  • amoghavarsha.ii
    Apr 7, 2013 - 5:16PM

    I did not want to read your article but read still, to know how again u will show the BJPs face.
    I am not a BJP supporter, still I do not like you writing against BJP which sometimes had been caustic.

    But his article was more towards the center line of Journalism. It is sad that most of Indian Journalists are not able/don’t want to / biased to disect the modi’s development of gujarat.

    If all the development trumpetted was taking place, why we find most business communities still say no business/recession they claim, why Gujarat still not finding strength to control H1N1, etc., kind of disease which is easily controlled in other parts there is lot of people migrating out of gujarat too looking out for jobs that too all types of skilled people.

    There is some grate mistake by our Journalists and grate injustice by these journalists towards Indians.


  • Apr 7, 2013 - 5:32PM

    BJP still does not have base and penetration in rural area which is a weakness in its organisation . With MNAREGA scheme in rural area congress has solid support and BJP is least aware of it. Benefits of this scheme( though scam as usual ) will be the decisive factor. Good governance by the regional players have snatched the voting support from congress and taking credit of the schemes launched by the centre . One point is clear that parties who are delivering ( good governance coupled with growth which is shared by masses) will get the votes irrespective of their leanings towards left, right, centre, secular or so called communal be it BJP, Congress or any other party.


  • Censored Name by ET
    Apr 7, 2013 - 6:35PM

    the Congress cannot campaign on its economic performance because this time, it has not been great, for whatever reason.
    Whatever reason: Corruption.
    Mr. AP don’t shy to write a right word CORRUPTION. Don’t be choosy when it come to congress.


  • Kannan
    Apr 7, 2013 - 7:35PM

    @ET @blackjack is correct. Some of my comments were never published even though I see that much worse comments is published. Instead of tracking the name or IP address
    , some one should read the contents. Of course, @ET is he only newspaper which also publish some adverse comments, but this has to be consistent and not selective.


  • Maula Jat
    Apr 7, 2013 - 8:04PM

    May I suggest a new name for ET’s website – IOW – Indian occupied web? 90% comments and their cascades of recommendations appear to be of Indian origin. But they are still not satisfied. Seems there is no site in India shining which provides the same satisfaction to these dudes.Recommend

  • sabi
    Apr 8, 2013 - 1:17AM

    Thanks for enlighting me with comparitive analysis on congress and BJP.As an outsider I have not much knowldge on india’s internal politics.However I personly believe BJP is far more progressive party than congress.India needs an agressive approach and bold steps to meet the challanges it faces.BJP is relatively a younger party than congress and it has to show revolutionary performance to challange congress monoply in india’s politics.There is nothing wrong with BJP’s shining India compaigne to attract FDI and to great extant this has helped india to see tremendous progress.
    There is nothing like schadenfreude.We should get out of this complex.I would definetly love to visit India not to make comparisons but to visit places that have much more to offer than mere progress.


  • gp65
    Apr 8, 2013 - 8:59AM

    @sabi: Welcome.


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