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The two words that Punjab government’s PR agencies have tried to push in the people’s psyche in the last few months are: ‘Progressive Punjab’.

chandigarh Updated: Mar 19, 2014 00:21 IST
Khushwant Singh
Khushwant Singh
Hindustan Times

The two words that Punjab government’s PR agencies have tried to push in the people’s psyche in the last few months are: ‘Progressive Punjab’.

Let us try and unravel these words to understand what exactly they represent and mean for the people of the state. Assuming the logic that human beings absorb and register what they experience, it is important to throw open the debate to have a reality check on this campaign.

Is progressive Punjab a truth, a reality in the making? Or is it a cleverly created mirage, placed at such a distance that the population will never be able to reach the truth? If not far from the truth, is the slogan even close to truth, with people actually reaping the benefits of progress?

The questions straight away take us to the moot point – what is meant by progress? Is progress decided on the advertisement pages of newspapers, television screens, billboards and in the bureaucratic files or at ground zero? Is progress a concoction that can be forced down people’s throats or is it like an anatomy of a healthy body, which keeps functioning without the human even knowing about its functioning? Yes, this may sound like a quiz, but when the ground reality is different, questions will be raised.

Let us imagine an image. You are on a highway and a speeding bus is on your tail, terrorising you with its pressure horn to give way or else be ready to be mowed down. A state, which has not been able to remove pressure horns from buses for years, (in spite of a high court order) and has an abysmal record of accident deaths – can it talk of progress?

Ha! How can you compare Infosys with speeding buses? And look at the progress Jujhar, Orbit, Libra and Kartar have made – given us Mercedes buses. And if they weren’t given the go ahead to flout rules, passengers wouldn’t get to their destinations on time.

Point taken, but let’s imagine a hypothetical scenario. What if the Canadian, American and the UK embassies were to open up visas for Punjabis for a day? The mandate is that people will desert Punjab overnight in search of greener pastures. As it is, people are ready to risk their lives to get to ‘Phoren shores’, so why would they leave such a golden opportunity?

Obviously, the PR spin doctors are working on a theory that constant usage of words like development, progress and IT through advertisements will play a significant role in perception building and help hide anomalies like drug addiction, poor health and education services, etc, etc. Advertisements can only do so much, but can’t create perceptions since the latter are built out of the rigors of people’s day to day lives. However much you advertise about surplus power or farmer summit, no amount of advertisement can mitigate the torrent of waiting for electricity to irrigate one’s land or a mother’s wail for having lost her son to drugs or accident.

If the PR companies think leaders are created through newspaper advertisements alone, it’s a failed communication theory they are following, because the mismatch between reality and advertisement has immense gravitational pull.

I am not here to condemn the effort, because at least the word progress has started finding space in Punjab’s political jargon: credit for which goes to Sukhbir Badal. However, my only suggestion to the young leader is to not fall in the trap of creating an image of a CEO. I know that my opinion is chicken feed compared to the plethora of advisers he has, but a CEO can go only that far. It is the leadership quality that will determine the future of Punjab, and perhaps his own. A CEO needs the help of advertisements, whereas a leader just inspires people to achieve what advertisements speak about.

Walking the talk is what is going to matter in the ultimate analysis.

The columnist is a Punjab-based author and consulting editor at a news channel.

First Published: Mar 19, 2014 00:19 IST