A Branded Book Launch

Book launches are clearly the new fashion shows, with more of the glitterati and the powerati in attendance (sometimes even more than the literati). And to take the analogy further, Shashi Tharoor is clearly the new fashion icon, for a book launch to get that extra heft you will need Tharoor on the dais, for he combines all of the above. Political analyst and marketing strategist P.K.D. Nambiar’s book launch had it all, a power packed panel to discuss a rather interesting topic—political branding as his book is about the art of brand management. The launch of You Too Can Be a Brand had Dilip Cherian give the introductory speech, and who better than the image guru who has shaped many a political career to set the ball rolling. The panel discussion had Shashi Tharoor, ICCR chairman Vinay Sahasrabuddhe and PKD on the dais (moderated by yours truly) as they discussed Brand Rahul’s evolution from Pappu to Bharat Jodo Yatri, the BJP under Vajpayee to Modi’s BJP and the rather precarious tightrope between perception and reality. Dr Sahasrabuddhe was of the view that “branding only helps you showcase your virtues and qualities. It cannot help one appear what he/she is not.” However, Tharoor pointed out that “brand consciousness is very reflexive, people hear a name and immediately some association props up in their minds. The problem is that the association is not always what the person wants you to associate with them. In my own case there are people who have had a very negative association which was built up by my critics and enemies; and others who have a positive association based on what they have seen of me.” Amongst other things Tharoor was probably referring to the witch-hunt that followed after his late wife’s death until he was cleared by the courts. But as Sahasrabuddhe summed up very aptly, “in the end it’s the real self that matters and which always stands out”. It was a lively discussion with some banter and a conversation that branded the evening as a success.

Congress Rajya Sabha question

With Mallikarjun Kharge elevated to the post of party president, who will replace him as the leader of the Congress in the Rajya Sabha? There is some speculation that this was Digvijaya Singh’s real target when he propped up his own candidature in the Congress Presidential polls. Certainly, he has the seniority, but he is also known to be a maverick and that may work against him. Other names that are doing the rounds include K.C. Venugopal, a RaGa loyalist, who is currently the organisational general secretary, but he may be relieved of that post once Kharge reshuffles the team at AICC. Veteran leader Abishek Manu Singhvi is another possibility, and certainly Singhvi is very measured and articulate in his debates. Or else, Kharge could continue with status quo in the good old tradition of the Congress, where change is more cosmetic than actual.

The Missed Call

The issue of rebel candidates has become a very real threat to the BJP’s prospects in Himachal Pradesh. Since the current BJP president J.P. Nadda is from Himachal Pradesh, he needs to ensure that the party retains the state, but in the meanwhile rival factions have sprung up as his detractors have been denied tickets. According to estimates, there could be anything between 20 to 30 rebel BJP candidates in the fray in the 68 strong house, and party sources state that the Prime Minister himself has taken note. Recently, a clip went viral on social media that allegedly has the PM himself placating one of the rebels, Kripal Parmar, who has filed his candidature as an independent from the Fatehpur seat. While one cannot confirm if it is indeed the PM on the other side of the line, the voice can be heard asking Parmar to step down and withdraw his candidature. Parmar accuses Nadda of sidelining him and is going ahead with the contest. Clearly, if the Congress wins Himachal it would not be because of its own positive campaign, for that party too is plagued with its own set of problems, but it would be because the BJP has lost the state with a series of self goals.

Teen Bandar

Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra is certainly making a splash on social media, releasing carefully choreographed and professionally shot videos and images of his interaction with Bharat in all its diversity. Apparently, the contract for his social media blitzkrieg has been given to a company called Teen Bandar that specialises in digital media, and is run by Savio Joseph and Prashant Chari. Clearly, it needed a dynamic, out of the box handling of the former Congress President to give his image a very comprehensive rehaul. For one thing is certain, while the jury is out as to the impact the yatra may have on the party’s electoral prospects, it has certainly worked for Brand Rahul as no one will refer to him as a Pappu again. In the meanwhile, some deft gatekeeping is being done by Jairam Ramesh, Pawan Khera and Supriya Shrinate, who take on any media house and journalist spreading negative or “fake news” about the Congress and its high profile yatri. Usually, it is the BJP that has the media on the defensive, “correcting” stories and calling out negative news items. But now the Congress too has got into the act with its very heavy handed attempt at course correction. In between all this gatekeeping and curated images of both Rahul Gandhi and the Prime Minister, you’re lucky if you get to hear the actual news.