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All that glisters...

Coming up to poll time in 2004, the Indian Government decided a no-expenses-spared advertising blitz to manufacture happiness was in order. And so was born (via the brainpower of the Indian section of advertising giant Grey Global Group) ‘India Shining’, a mantra that was soon on everyone’s lips.

With a lavish $20 million spend, 9,472 ad spots on all television channels in December 2003 and January 2004 alone, and blanket ads in the print media, to say nothing of glossy posters plastered everywhere, this paean to India’s economic successes was difficult to avoid. The appeal was to big business and India’s middle class, telling them they’d never had it so good, what with the market thrown open and the IT sector booming.

Ostensibly the campaign was supposed to be a vague shot in the arm to promote India internationally and give Indians a boost. Prathap Sultan, who coined the slogan, declared that ‘ “India Shining” is all about pride. It gives us brown-skinned Indians a huge sense of achievement – look at the middle class and they tell a story of a resurgent India.’

But opposition parties to the ruling hardline Bharatiya Janata Party complained that the ads were a surrogate form of election campaigning and a gross misuse of public money. Although a party political connection was denied by the BJP, party chief Venkiah Naidu gloated: ‘The result is already known even before the elections because we have made India shine.’ India’s Election Commission banned broadcasting of the slogan as the country went to the polls.

Was the public mood ever so badly misjudged? Ninety per cent of India’s population was left out of its ‘miracle’. Between 1993 and 2003, according to the National Crime Records Bureau, 100,248 farmers had been driven to committing suicide, buffeted by ‘free market’ winds and Government indifference. Much of India was seething at the BJP’s complicity in the massacres in Gujarat. The middle classes were heartily sick of the fake feelgood message and government corruption.

‘India Shining’ played a significant part in the BJP’s electoral defeat. A brave-faced LK Advani (the former Deputy Premier) admitted that the slogan was ‘not wrong… but not appropriate’. ‘In retrospect, it seems the fruits of development did not equitably reach all sections of our society,’ he added. The lights had gone out.

New Internationalist issue 393 magazine cover This article is from the September 2006 issue of New Internationalist.
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