Its early morning in Lutyens, Delhi. Chidu has just gotten up from sleep and is sitting in the lawn in front of his bungalow, waiting for his attendant to bring him his cup of morning coffee and the business newspapers. The attendant soon arrives very excited by the fact that Chidu has been awarded an Oscar by The Economic Chimes.
“Sir, sir, sir,” the attendant came running with the day’s pink papers and a cup of strong kapi like the way Chidu liked it.
“What happened?” asked Chidu. “Did Madam say something?”
“Madam?” the attendant asked. “When does she ever say anything? Mr Patel does all the talking for her.”
“Oh. You got me worried on a Monday morning,” said Chidu, sipping his cup of filter coffee, and adjusting his Ariel white Mundu. “So why are you so excited then?”
“Sir, you have been awarded the Oscar!” exclaimed the attendant.
“Oscar?” wondered Chidu adjusting his pashmina shawl.
“Yes sir, Oscar!”
“They must have given it to me for lifetime achievement then,” said Chidu with a proud smile on his face and a ‘halo’ around his head.
“Lifetime achievement?” asked a surprised attendant.
“Yes. What is politics if not a performance?” stated Chidu. “We politicians are the best actors after all.”
“But sir you are not even 70!”
“So?” asked Chidu.
“So you cannot be given a lifetime achievement award,” explained the attendant.
“But why not?” quipped an irritated Chidu. “In some cases things happen a little faster.”
“Arre sir, you are not getting my point.”
“What is your point?”
“Sir, lifetime achievement awards are given to those who have already retired. Or to those who are not retiring, and are expected to retire after they accept the award,” the attendant said. “
“And, you are a young turk by Indian political standards,” the attendant said. “Your days in politics are just about to start.”
“Oh, yes. Oh, yes. I am only 67 now. My best days are clearly ahead of me. I am just a little over a year older to Madam, you see.”
“For a moment you had me worried sir,” the attendant remarked with a slightly worried look on his face. “In my mind I had almost started to look for a new job.”
“Don’t worry. Don’t worry. I still have at least two decades of politics left in me,” said Chidu trying to pacify his attendant. “So what is this Oscar thing then?”
“Sir, The Economic Chimes has given you an Oscar,” answered the attendant.
“The Economic Chimes?”
“Well, when I was at Harvard, one of my dorm mates told me the Oscar is awarded by the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences.”
“So how can The Economic Chimes give me an Oscar?” wondered Chidu.
“Maybe the promoters must have picked up a stake in the Academy also, like they do in other companies. You know they must have assured the Academy some publicity in lieu of a stake?” said the attendant.
“Maybe,” replied Chidu, picking up The Economic Chimes to check.
“Sir how is the kapi sir?” asked the attendant. “Got my wife to make it today.”
“Oh. Is that the case?” said Chidu, talking to himself.
“Yes sir. She makes good coffee no?”
“I am not talking about the coffee,” blurted Chidu, slightly irritated by now.
“I am talking about the Oscar,” said Chidu. “The Economic Chimes has given me a growth Oscar.”
“Oh. I saw Oscar and your name in the headline and got totally excited.”
“I don’t blame you. These pink papers are so boring that it is very difficult to read beyond the headline anyway,” said Chidu. “On most days they put me to sleep.”
“But what is a growth Oscar sir?” asked the attendant. “I thought an Oscar is an Oscar.”
“Well it is a figure of speech. What they are basically trying to say is that I will do a good job in the budget of creating economic growth.”
“Economic growth?” wondered the attendant. “But sir things are so bad. Inflation is almost at 10%. Our growth in imports is nearly 13 times our growth in exports. Our current account deficit is at an all time high. Our fiscal deficit is reaching monstrous proportions. Our external debt is huge. The industrial growth contracted by 0.6% in December. Interest rates continue to remain high. Another pink paper reported today that fresh orders of companies are at a four year low.”
“Yes, I know all that,” said Chidu, sipping his coffee.
“So, where is the question of economic growth?” asked the humble attendant.
“Well, do you work for me? Or the opposition?” quipped Chidu. “Have you joined the BJP?”
“No sir I am totally secular till now. I work for you sir,” replied the attendant. “But then if you can’t convince me about economic growth, how will you convince the world at large?”
“World at large? What is that?” replied Chidu. “I only need to convince Madam, her son and Mr Patel.”
“But the world at large?”
“Oh The Economic Chimes is already doing that. They are batting for me.”
“But how can they so positive in such dark times?” wondered the attendant, finding it very difficult to let go.
“I can see through their strategy,” said Chidu. “I went to Harvard after all.”
“Be Positive is their strategy.”
“But as far as I know that is a blood group?” remarked the attendant.
“Okay. I am in no mood for poor jokes right now. See the idea is that if the largest pink paper projects news positively, then people will soon start believing that things are actually positive and once people start believing that things are positive, things might actually turn out to be positive.”
“It’s a mind game my dear.”
“But what if people don’t feel positive?” asked the attendant.
“Yes that is indeed a possibility. But then what is the harm in trying? It is like the concept of Aal is Well from the movie 3 Idiots. If you keep repeating Aal is Well, Aal is Well, things turn out well.”
“Yes sir,” said the attendant. “But isn’t that only in the movies?”
“That is the challenge my dear, to turn reel life into real life,” said Chidu, rather philosophically. “And for that we all need to be actors, from the media to the politicians.”
“Yes sir,” replied the attendant, finally getting the gist of what his boss was trying to convey.
“Oh and your wife makes wonderful coffee!” said Chidu.
“Ha ha! So you are trying the B+ strategy on me!”
“Well if I can’t convince you, how will I convince the world at large?” said Chidu, trying to have the last laugh. “We politicians are brilliant actors after all and if not an Oscar, I at least deserve a Filmpair.”
The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on February 25, 2013
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He can be reached at [email protected])
Vidhu Vinod Chopra the producer of the superhit 3 Idiots made a movie called 1942:A Love Story which was released in 1994. The movie had soulful songs and could have been a big comeback for the great R D Burman. But alas that never happened. Pancham da died of a heart attack before the movie was released.
The movie set during the days of the British Raj starts as a love story between the hero Anil Kapoor and the heroine Manisha Koirala, who keep singing all the beautiful songs composed by Burman in the first half of the movie. But throughout the first half all the characters other than the hero and the heroine keep saying this one line “shubhankar da aa rahe hain”, building the expectations of the audience for his arrival.
Shubhankar da (played by Jackie Shoff) finally arrives around 30 seconds before the interval. Until that moment the movie was a love story. Then on it becomes a movie on the freedom struggle, which in this day and age would have been called a political thriller.
As was the case in the movie, there comes a time in life of individuals as well businesses when the story has to change. The past has to be dumped and made insignificant and a new story needs to emerge.
This is something that Mamata Banerjee, rabble rouser par excellence and the only angry young man in the country with the days of Bachchan long gone, needs to realize. She built her career and life around trying to throw out the Left Parties out of West Bengal and finally after more than two decades of hard work and sheer persistence she succeeded.
If ever there was an example of an individual not giving up and finally succeeding she was it. But after becoming the Chief Minister of West Bengal what is her story? She still seems to be working on the same story of rabble rousing against the Left everywhere all the time, and holding them responsible for everything that is happening in the state of West Bengal. From rapes of women to lack of governance!
The irony of course is that she is the government now. Her level of paranoia against the Left is reaching extreme proportions now. Most recently she called the students of Jadhavpur University CPI-M cadres. As she said “They are the CPI-M cadres. I am not going to reply. I will give reply to questions from common people. I am sorry to say you belong to CPI-M. You are SFI (Student Federation of India, the student wing of CPI-M) cadres. We know all of you.”
While Bengal may be full of CPI-M cadres this is like stretching it a little too much. It is time that Mamata Banerjee changed her anti-left story.
There are a few things that Banerjee can learn from businesses from around the world which experience this phenomenon time and again. Some learn and adapt, others don’t and for some others by the time they realise that things have changed, it’s already too late.
Take the case of Nokia, the largest mobile phone manufacturer in the world. The company started in 1865 as a groundwood pulp mill. It gradually became an industrial conglomerate and among other things produced paper products, tyres, footwear, communication cables and consumer electronics.
In the early 1990s the company realised that its story had to change. It decided to concentrate on the telecommunication business. It gradually sold out a host of its other businesses. The change of story helped the company become the largest mobile phone manufacturer in the world.
But the company missed out on the smart phone revolution completely. By the time it changed its story and started concentrating on smart phones, other companies had already moved in and captured the market. A host of smaller companies from Micromax to Karbon Mobiles and many more are giving Nokia a run for its money in the Indian market.
Why did this happen? For the simple reason, like Mamata, the company remained attached to its earlier story.
There are other such examples as well. When it came to reliable trustworthy news there wasn’t a bigger brand than the British Broadcasting Corporation(BBC). The company did not see the story changing and the rise of 24hour news channels. CNN grabbed the opportunity and broadcast the Gulf War live into homes. Sony is another great example. The company changed the entire music business with the launch of the Walkman. But failed to see the story changing and handed over the mp 3 player market to the likes of Apple, on a platter.
Bharti Beetel which revolutionised land line phones in India by launching push button phones failed to see the story changing and remained stuck to selling push button phones, when more and more consumers were moving to mobile phones. Ironically, its sister company Airtel became the biggest mobile phone company in India.
The company has recently started selling mobile phones. Now imagine, during the days when Airtel was a growing company, Bharti could have sold its own mobile phones (under the Beetel brand) to consumers who bought an Airtel connection and thus could have been one of the biggest mobile phone companies in India.
Those who do see the story changing and change their stories accordingly benefit from it. An oft quoted example is that of Nirma and Wheel. The Nirma detergent started selling at Rs 3.50 per kg at a time when Hindustan Lever’s (now Hindustan Unilever) Surf used to sell for around Rs 15 per kg. The low price of Nirma made it accessible to consumers, who till then really couldn’t afford the luxury of washing clothes using a detergent and had to use soap instead.
To Hindustan Lever’s credit they did not remain stuck in their past, realised that the story had to change, and thus went ahead and launched their Nirma killer “Wheel” detergent, which eventually beat the sales of Nirma.
The moral of the story from all these examples from Surf to Nokia to Sony to Bharti is simple. At times in lives of individuals as well as companies the story that had worked previously needs to be dumped. It is time for Mamata to come up with a new story. She is no longer in the opposition when blaming the Left for every problem in the state of West Bengal was her story. Now she is where the Left was earlier.
If she doesn’t change her story and come up with a new one, her innings as a Chief Minister is going to be a short lived on. The people of West Bengal need to know what does the new Mamata stand for?
(The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on May 19,2012. http://www.firstpost.com/politics/what-mamata-can-learn-from-surf-bbc-sony-and-nokia-314738.html)
(Vivek Kaul is a writer and can be reached at [email protected])