April 05, 2020
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The Big Name Game

How the Nehru-Gandhi brand is being extended ad nauseam

The Big Name Game
Illustration by Sorit
The Big Name Game

In yet another desperate measure to lift its sagging fortunes, the Congress-led UPA-II has decided to name the national food security scheme—the nation’s biggest welfare programme launched by the government since independence—as Indiramma Anna Yojana, ensuring that beneficiaries will see this food-for-votes programme as a largesse from the Congress’s first family. Reports suggest the subsidised foodgrains will be packed in 5 kg bags with the Indiramma stamp, proclaiming the Nehru-Gandhi brand.

Since humongous sums will be sunk in this scheme—Rs 6 lakh-crore in three years—the Congress hopes this will fetch rich dividends in the assembly elections ahead and in the 2014 general elections. But when the government pushed the bill through Parliament, it hid the economic and political aspects of the scheme in order to win the support of parties, including those in opposition.

If it comes through, the Indiramma Anna Yojana will be the biggest votebank heist. It surpasses all previous attempts by the party to raid this bank, although it has time and again named major  government sch­emes, projects and institutions after three members of the Nehru-Gandhi family—Rajiv, Indira and Nehru—since the 1990s. This has undoubtedly disturbed the level playing field in the electo­ral arena. An estimate by this writer a couple of years ago showed about 450 central and state government prog­rammes, projects and national and state-level institutions, involving public expenditure of lakhs of crores of rupees, have been named after just three icons of the Congress.

They include the Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana (rural  electrification programme), which involves an outgo of Rs 28,000 crore during the Eleventh Plan period, the Rajiv Gandhi Drinking Water Mission, with even higher allocations per annum, the Indira Awas Yojana to house the poor, with allocations of  Rs 7000-10,000 crore per year and the Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme. Programmes named after Jawaharlal Nehru over the last two decades are the Jawaharlal Nehru Rojgar Yoj­ana. Then there’s the Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission, which  will cost the tax payer Rs 50,000 crore over seven years. Other schemes touching the lives of millions and named after the Nehru-Gandhis are the Rajiv Gandhi National Creche Scheme for Children of Working Mothers, the Rajiv Gandhi Udyami Mitra Yojana, the Rajiv Gandhi Shramik Kalyan Yojana and the Rajiv Gandhi Shilpi Swasthya Bima Yojana. The latest in this list is the Rajiv Gandhi Equity Savings Scheme to encourage small investors. What was Rajiv’s connection with the working class, the toiling mothers, sculptors and artisans and stock punters? That’s a silly question! These are all central schemes. Wait till you see what goes on in the states: their schemes named after the Nehru-Gandhis run into hundreds!

The best national parks, universities, institutes of technology, key airports, ports and even metro stations are named after these three icons. But, what really takes the cake is sports. All major tournaments and trophies are named after the Nehru-Gandhis and this includes nati­onal and international tournaments in foot­ball, basketball, judo, beach ball, roller skating, kabaddi, rural cricket, gymnastics, boxing, the Delhi marathon and the Ker­ala boat race. Only gilli-danda is left out.

Such is the obsession of Congress governments with this family that they name India’s biggest open university after Indira Gandhi and the fellowships granted there after Rajiv Gandhi. Similarly, the Centre for Advanced Scientific Research in Bangalore is named after Nehru and the science talent fellowships awarded there after Rajiv Gandhi. We are unlikely to see anything so gross even under dictatorships like in North Korea.

All this is part of a grand scheme to ensure that the branding touches every individual, at every stage of life. Once the food scheme is also named after Indira Gandhi, the Nehru-Gandhis will have virtually (thanks to the stupidity of their political opponents) executed the plan to ensure their brand recall at every moment in a citizen’s life. It will go something like this: “With every sip of water, remember Rajiv; with every morsel, remember Indira; when you build your home, again remember Indira... and so on.”

The Congress thinks it will go laughing all the way to its votebank. Let us wait till December 8 to see whether voters in five states have fallen for this. But for now, to understand the principle on which the Nehru-Gandhis conduct their politics, all one needs to do is substitute famiglia (family) for stato (state) in Mussolini’s famous quote. It would then read “Tutto nello famiglia, niente al di fuori dello famiglia, nulla contro lo famiglia (Everything within the family, nothing outside the family, nothing against the family)”.

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