If a fluttering national Tiranga hasn’t struck you in the face in the last week, then you’re probably living under a proverbial stone. But you’ll be woken up soon. The massive outreach exercise currently reaching a crescendo ahead of India’s 75th Independence Day is epic. Personalised to hit every citizen at their home, hovel, school or office via the humongous ‘Har Ghar Tiranga’ campaign, it is already seen now on every possible medium. The ‘Tiranga’ (tricolour flag) has now been weaponised into a fearsome means of straitjacketed nationalism.
Now, just wait for synchronised drone shots of runners and motorcycle cavalcades everywhere on Independence Day bearing flags, massive urban high rises fully draped in flags, villages flying myriad Tirangas, and many many other things. From the Army to universities, from ration shops to Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs), from corporates to banks, from mohalla samitis to panchayat pradhans, everyone has been brought on board. The day is near. And the photo-ops have been choreographed.
If a fluttering Tiranga hasn’t struck you in the face in the last week, then you’re probably living under a proverbial stone. Who’s going to benefit is an obvious question when succumb we all will to this national paroxysm of patriotism.
Everybody can play a role, whether it’s flapping a little plastic festoon in your office, placing one on your desk, or unfurling a larger one to adorn your home or factory or shop.
The last time something of this scale was done by the government was the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, during its first term.
But there are bigger issues just beneath the surface that vanilla nationalism and flag-waving alone will not resolve. Patriotism, the way it’s packaged and marketed, is helping the ruling party assert that it’s the only keeper of the flame and the faith.
Most political parties have just sullenly fallen in line. The main reason is that they are limited by their imagination. Imagination, for example, could have been visuals of many leaders waving a flag, legally but innovatively.
No One Can Miss This Campaign
While the Ministry of Culture has the primary responsibility of ensuring that this message is carried in a variety of ways, many more efforts are underway by the all-powerful ‘office’ above. ‘The Nation’s Flag Needs You’ is the message, and the ‘tricolour’ is the symbol of an assertive new India. Remember, we are preparing to host the world for our own G20 outing and more global attention.
The unmissable phalanx of leaders across the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is, of course, busy in what is their personal outreach programme. Now, everybody worth their salt has to touch a certain number of families and ensure that they are given a flag, or, if they already have one, it is prominently positioned in time for 15 August. This massive campaign, whose size can only perhaps be estimated by those who are either spending the money or are keeping account of what public expenditure is actually deployed, doesn’t, however, need to be measured in reach. That’s not in doubt at all. No one can miss this.
Whether this implies an uptick in the national levels of patriotism is the big question. Will Indians be more patriotic as a result of the nationalistic fervour that is sought to be unleashed by this campaign? That is the question that marketers have to analyse. Who’s going to benefit is an obvious question when succumb we all will to this national paroxysm of patriotism. To label it faux verges on treason.
Everybody Has a Role Here
The experience of having seen multiple campaigns of this kind before tells me that the great advantage that this programme has is that it is simple, cheerful, and instantly visible. The brand is already well-known and the buttons it presses are obvious. Everybody can play a role, whether it’s flapping a little plastic festoon in your office, placing one on your desk, or unfurling a larger one to adorn your home or factory or shop. The very simple concept of the campaign makes it easy to replicate. That alone triggers both visibility and, therefore, in image terms, guarantees success.
The second big question is whether conflating flag-hoisting with a sense of nationalistic pride is the most critical virtue that the country sorely needs right now.
Without a doubt, there will be an increase in younger generations’ awareness about national symbols. Many of them have probably not been at the receiving end of a campaign of this size in a long time. Remember that the case with millennials is that only campaigns actually move them. The last time something of this scale was done by the government was the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, during its first term.
Issues have, of course, come up within the campaign and its designers probably need to have taken some of those into account. There are questions, for example, on whether the alteration of the Flag Act to now allow flags to be made of material other than khadi was actually a smart move in terms of ensuring accessibility and scale. It certainly smacks of practicality, even as it cocks a snook at historic and socioeconomic symbolism. Khadi, sadly, wasn’t geared up for the scale of demand.
Is Patriotism Being Weaponised?
There was also that error someone somewhere made in showing a cheerful Muslim family celebrating the tricolour, which was quickly traced as a photoshopped picture of perhaps a Malaysian family, but it certainly was not Indian. Some overzealous nationalists have taken the campaign to a new low: ration shops in some BJP-ruled states are refusing rations to the poor if they don’t buy the national flag and pay 20 rupees as the cost of the Tiranga drive. The poor protest, yet no one hears, because the buzz of surround sound is so loud. But then, as I’ve supervised stuff like this before, some unkind overkill is bound to happen when anything of this staggering scale is attempted.
Nationalism, on its own, may be misplaced as the primary pigment we need on the national canvas at this time.
Whether we’re trying to take cover from the fear of China, papering over an economic slowdown that’s globally triggered, or avoiding the mention of the tidal wave of communal tensions, there are bigger issues just beneath the surface that vanilla nationalism and flag-waving alone will not resolve.
After all, the flag and its fury, in all its glory, are revisited every 15 August. The lines begin to blur on the question of whether this is being seen as a more powerful party campaign or a truly national campaign, as it ought to be. Questions remain, but no one can discount the fact that the campaign is effective and also likely to be impactful.
So, even as patriotism is being marketed, is it also being conveniently weaponised? The answer, sadly, is yes. Patriotism, the way it’s packaged and marketed, is helping the ruling party assert that it’s the only keeper of the flame and the faith. It isn’t germane, anymore, as to who is spending the money. The feet on the ground and the efforts in the air are a clear case of the party faithful making sure that they get the message across – that they’re the chosen ones.
Opposition Lacks Imagination
Coming as all this does a few months before some states go for elections, this is a wonderfully neutral way of ensuring that the party can reach people who otherwise may not be as open to party messaging. The barrage of visuals on social media, very often multiplied and propagated by party handles as well as the inevitable troll armies, is further proof that this success is a result of mega bucks and focused leadership effort. The Opposition is the ‘other’. And ‘the other’ is, therefore, anti-national almost by definition.
Fortunately, except for niggles such as the issue of khadi and the hostility towards the original providers of freedom, the matter hasn’t become totally polarised or party-driven. Most political parties have just sullenly fallen in line. Their reasons range from “because the flag we cannot oppose” to their own safety from vicious synchronised troll attacks. But, most importantly, the reason is that they are limited by their imagination.
Imagination, for example, could have been visuals of many leaders waving a flag, legally but innovatively. Alas, no. But hey, when did they do any thinking? Campaigns like these tend to benefit winners when there is a perceived notion of sacred conflict.
And so, this is a gigantic national campaign where the only war being fought is within. The enemy, it seems, is already within the gates. Anyone without the tricolour is anyway now designated the ‘anti-national’ enemy.
(Dilip Cherian is India’s 'Image Guru' and has strategised massive countrywide campaigns for businesses and others interested in them. Find him on Twitter on @dilipthecherian. This is an opinion article and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)