The business of nationalism3 min read . Updated: 17 Oct 2016, 11:02 AM IST
Hero MotoCorp's ad saluting soldiers, calls to shun Chinese firecrackers and the rise of Patanjali Ayurved show how nationalism as a brand is sweeping India
Ever since the Indian Army undertook cross-border surgical strikes on 29 September to neutralize launch pads for terrorists located in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, a surge of nationalistic fervour seems to be sweeping the country. And it is not only visible in advertisements—like the one from Hero MotoCorp Ltd saluting soldiers—and public sentiment.
Last week, members of the Cinema Owners and Exhibitors Association (COEA), responding to the 18 September attack by Pakistan-based terrorists on a military camp in Uri, Kashmir, declared that they would not be screening films featuring Pakistani artistes, including actors and music directors. Earlier, the Indian Motion Picture Producers’ Association, another film industry lobby group, imposed a similar ban.
Separately, a boycott of Chinese firecrackers inspired mostly by word of mouth is gaining momentum ahead of Diwali—the festival of lights.
Once again, this is in reaction to China’s overt support to Pakistan, a country India accuses of sponsoring cross-border terrorism. (The Chinese have once again blocked an India-sponsored motion in the United Nations to declare Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar a global terrorist).
Connect the dots and what do you have—the business of nationalism. Like Pakistani cultural stars and, of course, the associated Indian production houses are figuring out, it can fiscally hurt.
Similarly, Chinese suppliers of firecrackers, too, are feeling the pinch (to be sure though, there has been a separate crackdown on them due to the claim that they have been found to be unsafe).
Nationalism is not a new concept. It is something Mahatma Gandhi used very effectively to rally people against British colonial rule, appealing to people to boycott foreign goods—including lighting bonfires of them.
It became the key rallying call for the Civil Disobedience movement Gandhiji launched; in part, it was also a campaign for Indian handlooms.
But in modern, Independent India, the phenomenon of nationalism we are seeing is rare. A comparison would be 1971, when the Indian Army inflicted a humiliating defeat on its Pakistani counterpart. Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister, rallied public support by appealing to nationalism.
But the big difference between then and now is the size of the economy and objectifying the foreigner. At that time, India’s national income was measured in millions; today, the metric to measure its middle-income country status is trillions; consequently, the economic impact of such nationalistic fervour carries a punch.
Baba Ramdev, the yoga guru-turned-swadeshi tycoon, is a good example of someone riding this wave to take the battle to global consumer giants.
Those riding their cars to work must be familiar with the radio jingle—Patanjali apnaiye, desh ko arthic aazadi dilaiye (switch to Patanjali, give the country financial freedom)—preaching the virtues of indigenous industry.
In a recent interview to Open, he bluntly stated his case: “I believe that MNCs are looting this country. They have made our economy a prisoner of their interests and held thousands in their thrall. This is not good for my nation."
Ramdev told Mint in an earlier interview that he had set the target of expanding the Patanjali business 20-fold from the Rs5,000 crore in net sales the company posted in the business year ended on 31 March; the target for the end of March 2017 is an astounding Rs10,000 crore in net sales.
Like yoga, Ramdev is employing nationalism to reinforce the compact with the consumers of his products and his art form. In the same interview, he said, “Today, more than one billion people know me in this country, and the whole world knows me. Our promise is we’ll never ruin the trust people have in us, come what may."
The business of nationalism clearly has a case. At the same time, it is also apparent just this appeal alone won’t make business sustainable—it can neither be a necessary nor a sufficient condition. Yes, it can trigger a surge in sales. But eventually it will pass and the consumer’s rational instincts will take over. And an Indian consumer is inevitably driven by the value-for-money principle and, of late, also increasingly drawn to quality products. And, most importantly, not everyone can monetize nationalism.
Anil Padmanabhan is executive editor of Mint and writes every week on the intersection of politics and economics.
His Twitter handle is @capitalcalculus.
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