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In corporate-speak, it’s called segment marketing; dividing a broad target market into subsets of consumers who have something in common, and then designing strategies to target them. It has now been adopted by politicians in pre-election mode in a situation where every vote can be crucial to survival. The haste with which the Congress pushed the creation of Telangana was a classic example, but there are numerous others.
Prison inmates: The Election Commission takes no prisoners. Those serving sentences in jail are barred from voting in elections but some political leaders are sensing an untapped market segment and hoping that by releasing prisoners of a common ethnic persuasion, they can create a new vote bank. The fact that some are charged with the assassination of a prime minister is no bar. Once they are no longer behind bars, the resultant votes may even lead to the ascension of another prime minister. Tamil Nadu is the first state where this segmenting, termed ‘mercy politics’, is undertrial.
Tea sellers: Narendra Modi is a master at marketing, whether it is himself, his state, his ambition, or his humble background. He has now realised that tea sellers are a hot vote bank and has set up his own tea stall at various T-junctions, to return to his roots, or leaves, and woo an untapped segment. Sipping chai from an earthen cup while spouting homilies about families, he is hoping to stir up enough interest among the category. He is, after all, known to plan everything down to a T.
Street vendors: Modi’s tea party could come under strain because of a segment clash. Tea sellers are also street vendors, a segment the Congress is trying to woo. Parliament has just passed the Street Vendors Bill, which basically protects them from harassment by police, who are used to freebies. Political leaders celebrated by distributing sweets on the roadside when the Bill was passed, but they need to remember that there is no such thing as a free lunch.
Railway porters: Rahul Gandhi has been carrying a heavy load ever since he became the party’s chief campaign strategist/chief campaigner, basically the chief, or boss as he likes to say. Segment marketing has identified them as a category capable of lifting the electoral tally, considering they carry almost an entire nation on their head and shoulders. Rahul recently used the right platform, the railway platform at New Delhi station, to allow them to unload their problems. Their main demand: a ban on the use of strolleys and wheeled luggage which puts a brake on their livelihood, and a plea for a return to the old days when every passenger came loaded with massive bedrolls and armloads of paranthas and pickles, even if they were travelling from Delhi to Ghaziabad.
Autorickshaw drivers: Were ardently wooed by Arvind Kejriwal, who promised them a fare deal and freedom from fines for refusing to carry passengers, but put a spoke in their wheels by backing GPS, which harried commuters had translated as Grounded Passenger Service. Now that the AAP government has come to a screeching halt, somewhat literally, it’s not clear if autorickshaw driver’s legendary indifference to the aam aadmi will extend to the party as well.
Disgruntled cricket fans: After the Indian team’s poor performance abroad, the number of cricket fans who are hopping mad, as opposed to hoping madly, has grown enough to register a sizeable score. A former captain has referred to the current captain as “obnoxious” and if the rumours about Sourav Ganguly joining politics are true, he could exploit the conditions to tap into the segment. In politics, it’s called anti-incumbency.