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From the Discomfort Zone: Artist’s canvas of tea seller vs dynasty prince

The new game now is railway station tea seller vs political dynasty prince.

Written by Shombit Sengupta |
November 24, 2013 2:00:21 am

The funfair in the run-up to the 2014 general elections has begun,although 80 per cent voters don’t understand what goes on inside Parliament House. But they enjoy the whirlwind arrivals,departures,verbal electioneering wrestles,sometimes interspersed with splashes of black ink,and they vote. The new game now is railway station tea seller vs political dynasty prince.

Let’s take an analogy of this choice before the voter. If equated to moving vehicles,it could be bullock cart vs Rolls Royce; in food,it’s chana vs caviar; in water,it’s the gushing street pipe where somebody’s stolen the tap vs Evian coming direct from the Alps. Being a creative person,allow me to paint the 2014 election canvas without any bias between saffron and Tricolour. Their free-for-all includes words of legacy,authenticity,personal relations,quotations from history with right or wrong facts. The missing substance is who will do what for the electorate’s development.

Saffron: Suddenly hand gestures are going up,reminiscent of how Barack Obama would breeze into American electioneering with both hands waving. Indians habitually use the right hand,culturally considering the left hand not auspicious. Whether or not there’s regional nuance here,the saffron candidate has adeptly started the Westernised left hand greeting cult. Why not? After all,urban Indians are heavily inspired by jeans and Maggi noodles,so why push back,remembering Indian traditions instead of adopting the globalising new? Saffron may not get a Western country visa,but huge Western investment has entered Gujarat. FDIs are given every facility to flourish. Since Independence,this is the first time a Chief Minister is canvassing so forcefully as his party’s PM designate by showcasing his state’s achievements. Identifying with the common man,he’s declared he sold tea to passengers on trains,and then repartees on fellow politicians’ jibes for saying so.

Tricolour: There’s a huge treasure trove of nostalgia/memories here,great-great grandpa,great grandpa,grandma,father,mother as national leaders. Like the bubble gum effect where you chew and mouth-mash,the real juice goes away but the rubbery remnants can be stretched endlessly,or even blown up into airy balloons,Tricolour legacy can stretch way back to the pre-Independence leader advocating satyagraha. When people not so conversant with history see Tricolour-legacy posters with the charkha-spinning satyagrahi,it all seems happily legitimate and dynastic,since the Tricolour dynasty shares the same surname as the Father of the Nation. So bearing this surname,Tricolour can stomp into saffron’s territory with the double protection of dynasty and coincidence of a distinguished surname.

At the same time,tea seller saffron being from Gujarat can legitimately claim the desirable qualities of the satyagraha leader’s origin as his connect to legacy,and so raise his brand authenticity. Saffron is invoking another Gujarati legacy,he’s planning to erect Sardar’s statue as the world’s tallest. The way McDonald’s can win the taste buds of all Indians with a burger,can saffron nationalise Gujarati culture?

Meanwhile,Tricolour’s advantage is like European luxury products Louis Vuitton and Hermes before whom no new commercial brand can ever compete. That’s because such renowned luxury brands take the reference of their long years,selling it as a marker of noble legacy to establish their connoisseur craftsmanship for high brand worth. Having history is the bonus that newcomers can never get. Of course,there’s no connoisseur craftsmanship involved in this case,rather family breeding.

Did Bollywood follow the Tricolour family legacy or was it the reverse? Feudalism is officially eradicated,but culturally alive in Indian politics. Bollywood film stars promote their children,so does Tricolour. The great legacy management benefit Tricolour has is black & white documentary films,old newspapers,other archives. Tricolour mother’s tough public job is to untangle feathers her son’s emotional flying off the handle criticising government policies ruffled; simultaneously,she has to keep his political future intact. The sister is also available on demand. Tricolour politician has to only prove his dynastic thoroughbred political family. Tricolour party has several vintage politicians with solid political background and enormous pull in their constituencies. But they can’t climb beyond a certain rung in the ladder,their only choice is to nurture the dynasty scion who needs to grow and get appreciated.

Garland power: Do garlands reflect power? In the old days,politicians would respectfully throw the garlands back to the public in mutual appreciation. Today’s phenomenon is big,bigger,biggest garlands to flex and display political power. The masses are totally confused,are they politicians or prophets? The crux of this election is for the Tricolour to convince people that this sixth generation (after great-great grandpa,great grandpa,grandma,father,mother) legacy is the best for India,while saffron has to convince everyone that the style of governing Gujarat is the best for India. One can give you the dynastic encyclopedia while the other can offer a cup of tea even as the train is pulling out of the railway station. You,the voters,have the choice of learning our country’s political legacy or getting charged or re-charged with cups of tea.

Anyway,don’t look at who is good or bad. Abraham Lincoln had said,“You have to decide whether you want to be right or you want to be a President.” An unpainted canvas gives you the liberty of using whatever colours you want. The way great painters never bother about how others consider the painting,the saffron and Tricolour canvases seem to have unlimited expression possibilities. The only difference is that these antics will impact a billion people,whereas a painter’s painting may be liked by only the person who buys it.

The crucial question is who will bring livelihood and dignity to 80 per cent of our country’s people who probably don’t understand this colorful saffron vs Tricolour electoral canvas stretching like an endless bubble gum?

Shombit Sengupta is an international creative business strategy consultant to top management. Reach him at

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