The BJP leadership must be touched and moved by all the free advice being offered to them. They’ve been told to stick to Hindutva, become more inclusive, become more like the Congress, differentiate themselves from the Congress, become more right-wing, become more centrist, stick to their roots, uproot their roots and so on. There are also deep ideological divisions in the party between those who write letters and those who do not. Some want a chintan baithak, others want party leaders to do uthak baithak. It’s all very confusing.
What the party needs is a complete makeover, making it more relevant to the times. Consider how political leaders have redefined themselves abroad. David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party in the UK, has re-branded the party by the simple expedient of using the term ‘compassionate’ in front of the word ‘conservative’ on all occasions. Instead of jettisoning Hindutva and embracing Bharatiyata, which anyway nobody can pronounce, the BJP could simply use a suitably alliterative word before ‘Hindutva’, such as ‘hot’ or ‘hip’. ‘Hot Hindutva for the Hip Generation’ is a slogan today’s youngsters could easily identify with. Another slogan, “Xindutva for GenX’” is sexier, but meaningless. That may not be a bad thing, though, since people will read into the slogan what they want to.
While positive branding is good, it’s also important to brand your adversaries negatively. Obama never misses an opportunity to call the Republicans ‘the party of no’. BJP leaders must learn to use sneering C-words every time they mention the Congress. Examples include Confused Congress, Comical Congress, Conceited Congress, Contagious Congress, Contemptible Congress, Cowardly Congress, Coy Congress, Conspiratorial Congress and Corpuflatudiotic Congress. The last term is a meaningless one combining corpulent plus flatulent plus idiotic and should be used only in TV debates to flummox one’s opponent and make him rush out to consult a dictionary.
It’s also necessary to ensure that your policies are very distinct from those of the Congress. Party workers should be instructed to always say ‘Pakistani terrorist’ instead of terrorist, ‘regressive taxes’ when they speak of taxation and ‘entitlements’ instead of ‘subsidies’. To cultivate a nationalist image, party leaders should always say, ‘This great Indian nation kept in chains by the Congress’ whenever they speak of India. For example, ‘This great Indian nation, kept in chains by the Congress, made 150 at Lord’s today.’
Music is another thing that touches the lives of the young. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier rocketed to the top of the popularity charts after singing a rhythm & blues duet with French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner. It might pay dividends for Arun Jaitely to try singing a suitably nationalist song like ‘My Desi Girl” in public. But he should avoid hip-hop.
Perhaps the guy the BJP leaders really need to follow is the ultra-nationalist Vladimir Putin, who not only has a black belt in judo but has been seen fishing bare-chested in the Russian wilderness, apart from swimming in the Black Sea. He’s so popular that he even has a vodka named after him — Putinka vodka. If Narendra Modi swims the Yamuna, I’m sure we could have a nimbu-pani named after him in dry Gujarat.
While re-branding the party, core values should not be lost sight of. For instance, it’s clear that the strategy of Advani filing his nomination papers at 12.39 pm sharp did not work and his astrologer must be sacked. A smarter, younger astrologer must be found, preferably one with a computer. The party has done the right thing by replacing the Brahmin chief minister of Uttarakhand with another Brahmin. This makeover stuff is all very well, but some things are eternal. We must re-brand it, though, as ‘Caring Casteism.’ And finally, don’t forget to give rice away at Rs 2 per kg in all the states in which you rule. Others might call it a sop but you and I know it’s progressive populism.
Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint.