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The battle between the BJP and the rest of the opposition parties in India today is a lot like the iconic Coke vs Pepsi battle. For all the wrong reasons. 

Days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s bhoomi pujan at Ayodhya, JD(U) and RJD leaders said they also want Sitamarhi to be developed as Janaki Janmabhoomi and a Sita temple to mark it, just like the grand Ram Mandir. This came after leaders of almost every party lined up to chant Jai Shri Ram on 5 August.

Northern India is well and truly in a political ecosystem of copycat, ‘catch-up Hindutva’. This is classic brandjacking. But that’s where the Coke vs Pepsi brand war comes into play. 

Pepsi was perceived as being ‘like Coca-Cola’, while Coke continued to run the tagline ‘The Real Thing’. Even though Pepsi wins in most blind sip tests as better tasting, Coke remains the leader brand. That is where the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah’s BJP is.

The BJP’s Hindutva is Coke — a market leader brand today. On the other side are a series of Pepsi-like brands — Congress’ janeu-dhari variety, AAP’s Hanuman Chalisa-chanting, Shaheen Bagh-avoiding variety, RJD-JD(U)’s Sita temple variety, SP-BSP’s Parashuram variety.


Also read: No soft Hindutva, no Left Revolution, Kejriwal establishing a new centre in Indian politics


No takers for proto-Hindutva

In the competitive, overheated marketplace – not unlike Indian democracy – only companies that invest in creating uniqueness can dominate. If not, you are just seen as inauthentic.

“Who opened the locks?” countered many Congress members ahead of 5 August, referring to Rajiv Gandhi’s act of opening the Babri Masjid in 1985 in Ayodhya and allowing shilanyas in 1989. Their desperate claim to a sort of proto-Hindutva branding is a good lesson in how not to brand-position. After all, it wasn’t enough to have invented the computer, as Sperry Rand did. Nobody remembers the company today. A brand leader is one who dominates the mindspace of the consumer, something that IBM did, wrote Al Ries in his seminal book Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind. That applies to the BJP and Ayodhya too.

When you have the market leader, why would you opt for a pirated, johnny-come-lately version of Hindutva? Burger Singh instead of Burger King.

Even Shashi Tharoor had warned in 2017 that the Congress shouldn’t copy the BJP. “For Congress, peddling ‘BJP lite’ is like Coke Zero, it will get us zero,” he had said.

Poor imitation almost never pays in the long-term. But it may make a short-term splash. Like it did for Fair and Handsome cream that actor Shah Rukh Khan endorsed in a jaw-dropping relaunch in 2014. It tried to ride on the popularity and recall value of the Fair and Lovely brand (which men were secretly using anyway). But over the years, Fair and Handsome lost its way.


Also read: This is how Modi is different from other Right-wing populists like Trump, Erdogan & Duterte


Piling up on the Right  

Aside from brand positioning risks, catch-up Hindutva makes Indian politics boringly choiceless for those who truly wish for an alternative to religious fundamentalism. It is also a dangerous slippery slope. When everybody adopts overtly Hindu politics – or some variant of it – the original carrier is forced to mutate, evolving into a more strident version than the others. It is a race to the bottom.

In the last election in Israel, all the parties appeared to be stacked up on the Right. The spectrum disappeared. Closer home, just look at Pakistan. There really is very little that differentiates PPP, PML(N), and PTI from each other – in their pandering to Islamic fundamentalists and the military worship. 

Last year, I had argued that Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal is offering a new centrism in Indian politics – with a cocktail of Hinduism, nationalism, social liberalism and welfarism. But he has since moved further away from the centre and closer to the Right. His ideological gymnastics is a risky tightrope.

Over time, the lack of a genuine alternative and weakening of a robust horizontal accountability mechanism can lead to democratic backsliding.  

Instead of playing catch-up politics, what India’s opposition needs is brand-repositioning.


Also read: Four steps to defeating Modi in 2024. Step one: forget state elections


Only No. 2 can climb up

In the advertising world, the Avis versus Hertz brand rivalry in the rental car segment is the stuff of folklore. Avis was number 2 and Hertz was the market leader. For years, Avis’ message was like Hertz’s – cars, fleet network and so on. Then, Avis embraced its number 2 status, and started saying something like Come to Avis, ‘we are No. 2′, we try harder, our lines are shorter, our cars are in better condition and so on. For the first time, the company started making money. It set itself against Hertz, not like Hertz.

When the market leader becomes too big, it gets entrenched in its own mythology and locked in its ‘best practices’ template. Success makes it less nimble. Instead of a panic-driven, knee-jerk copycat move, Avis sought to exploit the weakness of the successful brand — the lack of need to improve.

It is what 7Up did with the ‘Uncola’ campaign in the cola-saturated market. Or how at a time when American cars were big and flashy, Volkswagen Beetle launched its iconic line ‘Think Small’. Pepsi only came into its own when it began targeting the youth and owning music, featuring Michael Jackson, in its ads. By positioning itself as the youthful choice, it tried to portray Coke as old.  

“For a business to grow, you need to find new users or get current consumers to use it more or find new applications for your product. A political party needs to find new believers or increase its relevance among its core base by offering a distinct proposition,” says Shiv Ranjan Sahgal, a brand analyst in Kuala Lumpur.

Who wants copycat Hindutva when you have the BJP’s Hindutva-on-steroids?

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18 Comments Share Your Views

18 COMMENTS

  1. Congress party Failed not because it lacked brand value at any time. When the whole of its orgniastional apparatus has been designed and modified to serve and propagate the personal benefits of a single dynast family only , then its future got tied to the fortune, misfortunes of that family. As family failed to produce the type of caliber , talent to lead the nation as diverse and full of problems as India , the family , the party — congress — that supports of the family are all bound to lose politically . Has RG – your projected leader — has that much talent as possessed by Modi or other BJP leaders ? Political environment in the country has gone sea- changes from the days of uncle Nehru. Uncle was leader of India where 80-90 % were illiterate , 80-90 % were forced to be kept the poorest deliberately as matter of policy , as only poor fellow bow before such uncles and his progeny. The most of journalists paying obeisance to the greatness of dynastic family , are those who can not or do not want to , perceive the fundamental changes that have occurred in political, economic, technological , environment /space during last 30-40 years. Political trends are there. Economic and social upheaval / changes are there to observe. Do these trends Suggest that India or India s youth will like to revert to days of India of 1960 s, 70 s, or even 80s ? Poverty, licensing , rationing , waiting for decade or half for telephone or Gas connection, admission to education institutions on the basis of recommendations, Jobs by middleman s kindness , defeats like 1962 s , free run to terrorists like on 2008 ,are unacceptable to India of 2020s or 30s. Can Congress party dare to say Article 370 or 35 A was failed piece of legislation and was there as a matter of appeasement of minorities ? If not , then FORGET , FORGET – India is again going to elect you or any combination formed by you. Now your place has gone into HISTORY BOOKS –all for future reference .

  2. Absolutely Correct…. Spot on…. BJP’s success today can be attributed to its uniqueness in comparison to all other parties…from 2 Seats in Loksabha to its dominant position today…. The problem with the opposition is that they do not seem to be willing to slug it out…. they seem to be so much used to power, that they believe that the route to success today would be to imitate BJP, even if it is to a small extent…. they seem to lack confidence in their own ideology, in their own uniqueness… its a loss to indian democracy, to indian people…. but nature abhors a vacuum…. eventually someone or something will pop out…. hopefully….

  3. Hindutva is a part of “Identity” and not a seasonal fashion. Reinvention comes from a change in mindset and it is not a case of Pepsi going against the dominant Coca-cola rather a tried-tested-failed Gandhis, Yadavs, and Mayawatis on a “Going-out-of-business” sale.

  4. Former Sar Sanghchalak Sudershan used to say that the Hindutva project is completed only when both the ruling and the opposition party pledge legion to Hindutva.

    I think we are at the start of the journey to that point Nationally even though it may have reached it already in places like Maharashtra and Goa.

  5. Well…if u look at any politician before Sonia led era from 1992 onwards…u will find all of them as Overt Hindus.😄

    Look at some pics of Indira with Rudraksh Mala etc., her links with “yogis” , her ease attending Havans , & marrying Rajiv -sonia by Hindu rituals.

    Being Hindu ain’t wrong just like holding Iftaars.

  6. The attack continues .
    Only recent events

    1) RIOTS IN DELHI ONLY ON BASIS OF RUMOURS

    2) RIOTS IN BANGALORE ONLY ON BASIS OF RUMOURS.

    3) DESTRUCTION OF GANESH IDOL’S IN GULF. WITH SILENCE OF JOURNALISTS FROM
    “THE CHHAPPAI”

    4) When HINDUS are attacked there is no
    ” Cut the clutter” but
    ” Bury the matter” .

  7. There is ample space for any party which believes in true democracy and liberal secularism, without pampering anybody. For that the leader needs to be trusted and genuine. The problem with Congress leaders is nobody trusts them as nobody is sure what they will do when they come to power. Look at the states wherever they are in power or sharing. The same pampering is going on. So who will trust them to be true democratic ?

  8. Pure Secular BS is this not? So what kind of party do you want? Minority appeasing pseudo secular party? A party that believes in discredited Nehruvian ideals? India needs a party that is neutral on Religion. A party that really does not associate with any religion. This Indian notion of Sarva Dharma Sama Bhava secularism does not work. Parties will exploit this notion as they have and woo votes based on religion and caste. First and foremost we ought to acknowledge the fact that our notion of non-neutralism on religion does not work. Most secular intellectuals are OK with minority (Muslims are not a minority by any stretch of the imagination), fundamentalism as well as appeasement by political parties. These seculars are ok with IFTAR parties thrown by our political leaders. How can that be?

  9. As usual the elite refuse to acknowledge their own narrowmindedness
    Think harder – why did the BJP rise?
    1. The Hindus saw how they had been taken for a ride by the grand old party and other political outfits shaming them (superstitious, Hindu poverty rate) while treating minorities with kid gloves etc.
    2. Promising and delivering corruption free governance that made sure simplest things reached the common man/woman (ayushman bharat, Ujjwala etc) as it was supposed to

    It is an outcome of Hindu awakening backed by BJP’s delivering of promises (not just religious or citivilizational ones, mind you)
    So how can you counter it?
    By shunning hypocrisy and for once delivering results. Till then you can continue to talk of hyper Hindutva, macho nationalism blah blah to your own echo chamber’s applause

  10. The Muslims are a legitimate constituency for the Congress party. Nothing to feel ashamed of. Nor to be taken for granted, on the assumption that they have nowhere else to go. Actually, they do; the SP in UP, RJD in Bihar, the TMC in Bengal. Dalits and Adivasis too can be part of the big tent of the Congress. 2. The Congress should find ways other than Hindutva lite to reassure Hindus that it will work for their interests. The adherents of which religion have gained from economic liberalisation. Just get rid of Jack and Jill.

  11. Fail to understand why a party with so much more cerebral quality don’t see the writing and project just its own riches full story crafted over 135 years against a party that was anti freedom movement, assassinated The Mahatma and flashing the Hindu card when India never wanted to go the Jinnah way of a nation built on religion.

    • Because there is no cerebral quality only sycophancy. Also this is not the 135 year old party. It is only an offshoot named after Indira Gandhi started in the late 60s or early 70s. The original INC, which Gandhiji wanted dissolved finally broke up into several parties.

  12. I think we need hindutva a challenge to western universalism and Nehruvian consensus as our national philosophy
    but what about hindutva + capitalism vs hindutva + socialism

  13. Wonder why the author did not mention the politics of Muslim League in Kerala or Owaisi’s brothers Neo-Razakar party AIMIM or the entire oppositions anti-Hindu politics for 70 long years.

    Religious fundamentalism is based on Abrahamic Monothiesm. Maybe someone should write about that for a change.

    • “Mention” it because..?

      In your view, all other parties loudly supported AIMIM or Muslim League?

      Or…?
      Is this yet-another..

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