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The Myra Vineyards campaign promised a free glass of wine to those who voted in Bangalore
The Myra Vineyards campaign promised a free glass of wine to those who voted in Bangalore

The conspiracies to have you vote

Is it sensible for those handling your brand to accuse your customers and prospective buyers of being venal?

On 8 April, I got this email from my insurance company, Max Life Insurance. Its subject line was: “This election—Vote Honestly, Vote Right". The message read: “We, at Max Life Insurance, have always been there for you, helping you in making the best choices and investments in your life. So that you and your loved ones stay protected and happy forever.

“This time, we urge you to join the entire nation for a very important decision. In the General Elections 2014, participate in the electoral process and vote the right people into power—Don’t just vote, vote honestly, vote right."

I mailed them back:

“How dare you lecture me on how to vote? Please keep your fatuous opinions to yourself."

To this I have yet to receive a reply, and I regret the millions I have fed these people. Their tag line, I noticed for the first time, reads: Aapke sachcheadvisor.

I wish they would concentrate on doubling my money and go easy on the advice, to say nothing of broadcasting this blather. Alas, they are not the only ones.

The same evening, I was waiting for my turn to speak on a Hindi news show when they went into one of those breaks. On my earpiece, I heard an advertisement for Maruti which had the line: “Chand paison ke liye gadi nahin bechte to phirvote kyon bechna?" (You don’t sell your car for a few bucks, so why sell your vote?)

Now I understand that people in Indian advertising are not usually drawn from the front of the class. But is it sensible for those handling your brand to accuse your customers and prospective buyers of being venal?

I realized that I was made attentive to this by the Max Life email. The thing was an epidemic. A spot selling Hero motorcycles lectured viewers on not voting for people because they were “apne yahan ke". Another ad, immediately following, peddling something called RR Kabel, hectored me on how not to sell my vote.

And Myra Vineyards, cheers to them, want to “promote responsible voting and reasonable drinking". Of course. What could make for a better partnership than responsible and reasonable? The emperor Jahangir cut his intake from 20 drinks a day to five and that was reasonable. I think it unreasonable that bottles once opened be left unfinished, and to each their own.

“On the day of election," their press release promises, “if a person shows his inked finger at the place mentioned above, he will get a glass of wine free of cost."

But wait! “Myra Vineyards believes that an individual should vote in a conscious frame of mind and then, drink... Kindly use this information in your potential stories (that’s what I’m doing right here). If you would like to speak with Mr Ajay Shetty, MD, Myra Vineyards to know more about the campaign, please let me know," writes the author of the release.

I would like to speak to Ajay Shetty, show him my finger and tell him this is a poor way for him to peddle his hooch.

Even media companies are doing this. A long and angry ad on Star shows a college applicant applying for a visa and wanting it by a particular date to join the school abroad. The woman interviewing him asks, “Isn’t that the voting date?" He doesn’t know and shrugs. She turns stern and says: “Well, if you cannot make a difference to your own country how will you make one to another? Why should they have you?" Then Star demands that its viewers vote. My advice to Star—why don’t you switch off your programming for the day? That will help get people out of their homes.

I’m surprised my friend Uday Shankar, the prodigy who has turned Star around, approved of this fundamentally illiberal position.

Meanwhile a Reuters report said that Young Indians, a group linked to the Confederation of Indian Industry, a trade association, has launched the “Show the ink, See prices sink" campaign, which gives discounts to people who vote.

“Among youngsters it’s become a cool thing to flaunt their fingers after they’ve cast their vote," said D.N.V. Kumara Guru, national chairman of the group, and clearly someone who has no idea what cool means.

This was important, according to Reuters, because “at the last general election, only about 58 per cent of the electorate voted, with many urban Indians in particular apathetic". What? When did 58% become “only"?

In New Delhi, people who voted got a discount of 0.7% on petrol. “It’s our moral and social duty to motivate citizens of India. After a long freedom struggle we got this right," said Ajay Bansal, general secretary of the Federation of All India Petroleum Traders.

Yes, how better to motivate people towards noble democracy than by giving them cash-back offers? And to think we were just told how not to sell our vote. Anyway.

Who thinks up this stuff? In Bangalore, the Sakra World Hospital is offering a 10% discount on outpatient services to voters. If you’re too unwell to have voted, too bad. The hospital will treat you at full price.

Alarmingly, the Election Commission is nudging people in a particular direction. The Hindu reported that in Maharashtra the EC “has put up posters and banners urging people to vote for candidates who are pro-development and well-educated and also asked voters to beware of those who offer bribes and inducements as such elements would indulge in corruption in the future."

What business is this of the Election Commission?

The bullying continues and the EC is taking a pledge asking people to vote ethically for a candidate who will “meet the aspirations of the people and the nation as a whole". Who is this great candidate? Mercifully, the EC does not say that.

It asks, however, that voters cast their ballots “without fail, fear or greed, and without keeping caste, religion and creed considerations in mind" and to “inspire and encourage friends and family members" to vote in this fashion. The Hindu report quoted an official saying that people would be asked to sign and submit the “pledge" letters at the polling booths.

Truly frightening.

Also Read | Aakar’s previous Lounge columns

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