Millennium Post

Death of Brand Congress

The most important of the three attributes of a great brand is that it is built from a great idea. There is no political party in India that can match the brand Congress on this aspect. Congress, even the detractors must grudgingly concede, was born out of the need for the Indians to collective communication on the need for the nation. The only problem a brand born out of a great idea faces is how to campaign in a sustained manner so as to remind the target audience of its great reason for birth.
 The second and the other important attribute of the great brand is that it holds true to its core purpose and values. This is an aspect where Congress has fared miserably in recent times. After India’s independence from the British rule the original purpose of placing before the foreign ruler the aspirations of Indians was replaced. Lucky for the party it had all its great leaders – Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel, and Jawaharlal Nehru et al – to guide to the new agenda in an independent and democratic India. Howsoever great an original idea might be a brand must rejuvenate its core purpose and values based on the changing times. This Indian National Congress could do successfully despite the hiccups of partition, riots and economic turmoil.

The third important attribute of the brand is that it employs brand as the central organising principle. For a political party that means that its core purpose and values together with its ‘great idea’ will guide the party under all circumstances. Its activities, in course of occupying the position of power or even when not in power, must conform to its brand attributes. As long as these attributes are observed meticulously the brand value remains untarnished. This does not depend on the charisma of the brand leader. The activities of the political brand it self is enough for creating leaders who will steer the party through all difficulties.

Apply the three core attributes of the brand on Congress. Needless it to mention that no other political party merits mention in the same league as Congress as far as the first two attributes are concerned.  Born with a great idea and then rebranding with a new core purpose and value post-independence the party stands tallest among all political entities. Unfortunately the campaign for the recent state assembly election does not speak well of the brand Congress. What could be the reasons for the aberration?

The problem lies in the party’s application of the third attribute of a great brand: that of employing the brand as the central organising principle. The manner of election campaign for Congress in all the states had been to place Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia above the core attribute of the brand. Even in Delhi, a city-state ruled by the charismatic chief minister of Congress Shiela Dikshit, the election advertisement had featured prominently a picture of Rahul Gandhi. Clearly the personality of Rahul was used mindlessly to propel the brand Congress.

Sycophancy was perhaps the reason for using Rahul’s photograph in the campaign in the print media. But such flatterers in effect placed brand Rahul above the brand Congress. Does Rahul Gandhi deserve such a positioning? Is he greater than the historic brand value of the Indian National Congress built over a century and a quarter? What has been his contribution for the nation so that the great brand built by Surendranath Banerjee, BalGangadharTilak, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel, Lalbahadur Shastri or even NarasimhaRao (the list is just indicative) had to rest on Rahul?

That the decision was absurd could be gathered by the lack of people in Rahul’s rallies. When a ruling party with huge reservoir of financial and administrative muscle fails to collect crowd for their top leader’s public meetings, it needs careful introspection. In case of Rahul more than the absence of crowd what has been perturbing is the clear demonstration of disgust by even the thin crowd that gathered in his meetings. They booed him; they started leaving when he started speaking. Clearly Rahul could not replace the most durable political brand of India, the Indian National Congress. The role of the sycophants is to mislead. It is the ability of the leader, which determines if the sycophants will carry the day. Evidently Rahul Gandhi is not a leader.

But Rahul is not the only reason for the near deathblow on brand Congress. The back seat driving of Sonia Gandhi did not help matters. When the Prime Minister of the nation has no voice, no control over his cabinet colleagues the messaging for the brand is wrong. Till the general election in 2009 this was not the impression. The last action of the UPA-1 Government led by Manmohan Singh – the Indo-US Civilian Nuclear Deal – positioned the Prime Minister as a decisive leader who thinks for the nation’s future. The deed spoke mush louder than the shrill campaign of branding him as an ineffective Prime Minister. In the absence of any such significant role during the course of the second term he has earned the derisive mention as ‘Mouni Baba’.

Singh damaged the brand beyond repair by not acting decisively on various allegations of scams during his tenure. His actions remind one of cricket -the ducking of a batsman while facing a bouncer from a fast bowler. Sonia Gandhi could have stopped the rot had she made an effort to change the Prime Minister mid course. The belief that by hoisting a good looking inarticulate Rahul Gandhi the handicaps so created could be overcome was senseless and bound to fail.

The end result is the demise of an iconic political brand in the country. Congress now stands at a juncture from where an immediate recovery seems inconceivable. This has been the most unfortunate role of the party’s present leadership. Congress needs to rebuild itself for the sake of the Indian democracy. The family is of no significance.

The author is a communication consultant
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