Lok Sabha polls are the biggest reality show on earth

The opposition's smartest move this time is the acronym

You have gotta love the election season. Setting aside contentious issues like electoral bonds, rumours of electronic voting machine rigging, bribery, intimidation and wilful disinformation, the fact is that India’s Lok Sabha elections are still the biggest reality show on earth. Of course, reality shows today are often accused of being a little um, performative and pre-decided, much more ‘show’ than ‘reality’ but that doesn’t stop them from being absorbing viewing.

As usual there’s so much to watch and learn from the BJP’s advertising, marketing and information cell. It’s wrong to call it a cell, or even a sell, because it’s so much larger and savvier than that. Their classiest move this time, to me at least, is the weaponising of the number 370. By setting it as their target for 2024, they achieve two things. One, they flex casually on the fact that for them the erstwhile magical number of 272 is a bayen hath ka khel, the equivalent of competing with one hand tied behind your back. This is something an indulgent adult often does with a child, which in effect allows them to infantilise the opposition, which is clearly the logical next step after they have successfully infantilised the electorate (Bharat Mata is our holy mother, we are her worshipful, dutiful children, and to question her, or her chosen son Modiji, is the worst kind of sin.) And, two, without even uttering a single word on the topic, they remind all of us of the abrogation of Article 370, of the fact that nobody has ‘special status’ in India today, and that the BJP juggernaut sweeps everything that comes before it, be it the Supreme Court, the intentions of our founding fathers or the wishes of the majority residents of a state.

Image: Shutterstock.AI Image: Shutterstock.AI

The opposition’s smartest move this time, to me at least, is the acronym, or rather the backronym (when one already has a word in mind and works backwards from there, to come up with an expanded form for it) I.N.D.I.A. This branding is a stoke of pure genius—it makes the alliance seem more cohesive, less raggle-taggle, it’s memorable, and gives the alliance some much needed high ground—they stand for the idea of India, not just opportunistic election victory—the speeches can just write themselves. In fact, the branding clearly rattled the BJP publicity machine, as rumours of India officially changing its name to Bharat swept our news feeds just a little after I.N.D.I.A was announced. But the usual cracks showed up in the ‘alliance’ almost immediately, and the BJP probably (and wisely) concluded that there was no need to panic.

Still, the BJP is no slouch in the acronym game—there’s UPYOGI sarkar (Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath) and the last time I watched a new channel, a BJP spokesperson was busily pitching torturous backronyms like RAM LALLA (Rashtriya suraksha, Mahila, Labharti, Leadership and Ardhvyavastha), GIIITA (Growth, Information, Innovation, Infrastructure, Technology and Atmanirbhar Bharat) and PDA (Performance, Delivery and Aspiration) to an amused anchor.

The AAP used to be good at this—the name of the party is in itself evocative, and lends itself to endless, powerful wordplay, as does the symbol of the broom which would sweep India clean of all corruption. If the AAP publicity apparatus ups its game and plays it smart, they may be able to convert Arvind Kejriwal’s arrest into a sympathy wave that may pay a sweet dividend on the hustings. Who knows, Delhi could become BADLAPUR. (Beloved And Dashing Leader Arvind Powers Party’s Unbelievable Resurgence.)