Monday, June 15, 2009

BJP: THIS TIME IT IS DIFFERENT

Till date, it is not clear who plagiarised whose slogan. Was it Nestle that stole BJP's line that it was a "party with a difference" or was it the BJP's leaders who so liked the Maggi sauce advertisement that said "It's different!", that they made it their own?

For the first few decades after Independence, the grand old tomato ketchup and Congress party dominated their respective markets, with chilly sauce and and all-other-political-parties attracting the remaining few takers. In the eighties, Nestle developed Maggi Hot and Sweet sauce that was positioned somewhere between the two and claimed that it was "different". The Jan Sangh too did something similar in the political landscape by re-naming itself as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and made the same claim. Both offerings were liked by bored and taken-for-granted consumers and, as they say almost every other day theses days, history was made.

Both continue to claim to be "different", but if you ask Pankaj Kapoor, who featured in the original Maggi Hot and Sweet Sauce ad in 1989-80, to identify what exactly makes it "different", he will only gape at you with that "what-a-silly-question-to-which-I-have-no-answer-look", if you can imagine such a "different" look. The same silent reply, with an added "hurt" look, will greet you if you ask Advani, who was the star of the original campaign of the BJP that helped it erupt on the national scene dramatically in the nineties.

Maggi sauces continue to remain popular with that "It's different" line, thanks to some great ads starring Javed Jaffery, backed by great sauces that retain their edge in quality and taste over the many copycat products that have hit the market since. The BJP, on the other hand, has lost the plot completely, and has begun to look and taste like the original tomato sauce (Congress) would, long after the expiry date, with a dash of other local sauces thrown in to confuse the taste completely. No wonder it has got so badly bashed in the recent elections.

These days, the BJP is being called "a party with differences", "a party no different", "a different kind of BJP", "the party with no difference", "still a party with a difference" etc. After India caught the party trying to pass off old bottles of sauce as new and "different", and rejected them in favour of the tried and tested, though bland, taste of the Congress sauce that they were sick of and had earlier rejected repeatedly, the BJP has gone into a peculiar "atma manthan", introspection. Its leaders are now showing other leaders where they have gone wrong and what introspection they need to do. Every one thinks every one else has blown it while he has done a terrific job!

Its master strategist, who had thrown a national fit during the campaign and remained at home for two weeks to put in place the COO and his confidante, and then taken all but complete control of the party, has suddenly discovered that Indian tastes have changed and that people are not willing to accept the same sauce that they had loved in the nineties. The excellent distribution and marketing network that had set up, he says, cannot be blamed because it is the product that stinks; people no longer like the "chatpata" and "teekha" stuff that the likes of Muthalik, Sahu and Varun put into the recipe.

The ad man, who looks like RK Laxman's common man, had saturated the media and the net with the "mazboot neta" campaign and written all those winner speeches that exposed Dr Manmohan Singh as India's weakest PM ever, as well as a "nikamma" one, and turned the fight into a one-to-one contest between him and the PM-who-is-no-longer-even-in-the-waiting-list. He too is now blaming the use of wrong ingredients in an out of date product for the dismal performance. He has conveniently forgotten that he had focused mostly on how bad the other sauce was, and not how good and "different" his was. People already knew how bad the other one was; they wanted to hear how much better BJP's "different" offering was in real terms; what they got instead was the smug mug of the mazboot CEO everywhere, doing little more than running his competent and compelling competitor down.

The CEO, who had briefly offered to step down after the debacle, is now sticking on to ensure smooth ascendancy of his close confidants, since he can no longer ensure the same for his son and daughter who were with him 24/7 during the long campaign, ready to claim their share of the victory pie. The master strategist, despite his failure and despite the fact that he himself has never personally succeeded in selling even one bottle of sauce ever, has been given a promotion. Other senior Vice-Presidents who successfully managed to meet sales targets in their territories are out in the cold, some fuming, some still quiet and some happy at getting the load off their chests by complaining to a COO who himself has never had a clue about what it takes to run such a large company, and is more worried about his future than anything else.

Ideas are coming in thick and fast. Some are suggesting that the party should revert to the original tomato sauce formula that the Congress is sticking to, while others are warning that it should not even think of dumping the "different" base that is its USP. As always, there are those who advise a broad cautious middle path by suggesting that while the base should not be thrown away, its proportion should be so reduced that only those with the most sensitive of tongues can detect its taste, and those who are allergic to it do not get any reaction and be put off for ever.

Forget the product. Look at the process. Who says the BJP is not a party with a difference? So much churning, so much of near rebellion, and so much criticism of the CEO cannot even be dreamt of in the Congress. In that family owned party, be it victory or disaster, the family is never questioned; like Lord Tennyson's brook, it goes on forever. Is that why the Congress has survived for so long with so bland and adulterated a product? Is that why taking a cue from the Congress, the CEO of the BJP, instead of looking at the rejected sauce, is now concentrating on protecting his own coterie? Why instead can't he and others see that powerful scientists working on product development in their R&D Headquarters in Nagpur and centres elsewhere still dress like the British and some of their subjects used to over a century ago? With that dress code, how can the mindset change, and a contemporary product conceived, much less produced? Can't they see that the Congress - smart guys - did away with a separate R&D Wing altogether in 1948, the moment Gandhi died?

The troubles in the BJP are only growing with every passing day. Yes, everyone knows that the party at one time had only two MPs in the Lok Sabha and now has 116. But those days, it was struggling to grow. This time it is different. The party is sliding after having peaked. No wonder some of us are beginning to believe that the party is going the General Motors way. It seems now as if small, loss making units of the party will be bought across the country by competitors while the main party itself will file for bankruptcy. In the US, Obama has given GM the dole and promised to keep his administration out of management despite owning 60% of the company, and let it recover.

Will that happen in India too? Not at all. Here, if the party does not wake up and TV studio leaders, who know they will get rehabilitated in the Congress whenever they leave, don't give way to real ones who have successfully managed to sell the bad "different" sauce and make people like it despite all its shortcomings, dilutions and additions, the shell of the BJP will simply be taken over by the Congress and merged with it, and the party will go totally under. With nothing "different" left, life will become boring once again. Till someone inevitably puts together a political "Nirma" to take on the might of "Surf"; the cycle will then begin again.
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2. Is BJP's warship headed for Alang?