India vs. Bharat: Another case of marketing myopia?

A politically motivated switch from ‘India’ to ‘Bharat’ for all references would not only be a waste of public resources, but also an abuse of majoritarian power.
A politically motivated switch from ‘India’ to ‘Bharat’ for all references would not only be a waste of public resources, but also an abuse of majoritarian power.

Summary

Constitutionally, India is also known as Bharat, but a full switch from the former to the latter would require in-depth market research and an informed debate on what we might gain or lose.

You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do." Not my words, but Henry Ford’s. “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently." So proclaimed Warren Buffett. Might India’s government fall victim to what marketing mavens call ‘myopia’ by throwing away the age-old reputation that India the brand has accumulated for a mere election, this being an issue which a Medici sample survey among 534 urban residents found to have no impact on voting intentions?

Why do politicians want to fix things that aren’t broken? Any rebranding is a tedious exercise, one that should be done with an abundance of caution and wide research; it’s not to be decided with the toss of a coin, or on the advice of an astrologer. A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for our acceptance. It just isn’t what politicians tell us; it’s what we tell each other it is.

If India, in its own inimitable style, wants to imitate Turkey’s renaming by Erdoğan, it must remember that like with most startups which copy and paste, this could prove costly economically and probably culturally as well, no matter how many pundits insist both ‘India’ and ‘Bharat’ are allowed under the Constitution.

Imagine the bills of rebranding. Outlook magazine estimated it to be around 15,000 crore, funds which could help fight poverty. There would be operational expenses, too, in revising all currency notes, coins, passports, sign boards, maps, letterheads, consulates and much else. Contracts handed out will also make space for corruption.

Rebranding India involves reshaping the way it is perceived domestically and internationally. Renaming is so extreme that nations rarely consider doing it, and if at all, only in exceptional circumstances. Turkey has been known as Turkiye internally since its inception in 1923, and the change faced no resistance. Ankara had its reasons.

Constitutionally, India is alternatively known as Bharat. A politically motivated switch from ‘India’ to ‘Bharat’ for all references would not only be a waste of public resources, but also an abuse of majoritarian power. Such decisions should never be one-sided, and what’s done for domestic public consumption will not help internationally. Without full support at home, the use of Bharat may adversely affect inward tourism. Politicians may have specific constituencies in mind, but bureaucrats must demur.

Globally, rebranding efforts are carried out for various reasons. For example, when a country undergoes a significant economic shift, say from an agrarian to an industrial or knowledge-based economy, rebranding can help. Think of South Korea’s rise as an economic powerhouse.

A country can also be repositioned to attract tourists and showcase a unique aspect of its natural or cultural heritage. “Incredible India" and “100% Pure New Zealand" are two highly successful such campaigns.

Shifts in political leadership, government policies or geopolitical ties could necessitate a rebranding exercise for an image makeover, as in Myanmar’s case.

Changing a country’s name poses serious risks and challenges. Changing India to Bharat could result in confusion, globally. It could disrupt business relationships, diplomatic agreements and international treaties that use the current name. Updating all the paperwork would be a monumental task. A formal name change would require global recognition and acceptance, for which cues may be taken from responses within India.

As for global brand equity, Bharat would have to be re-established in international markets on a thin base. This could impact not just tourism, but various commercial relationships. The success of the rebranding exercise, which could take years, would depend on how well Bharat is received and associated with positive attributes across the world.

The responsibilities for it would have to be multifaceted and require collaboration between government agencies, private sector stakeholders and marketing experts. Most importantly, such a monumental decision must not be taken on a political whim.

India’s bureaucracy and civil society must demand, at the very least, the following:

• Conduct thorough research to establish the case for name change. This must be done by a neutral global agency of impeccable credentials. The findings should also present the associated risks, projected costs and assignment of responsibilities.

• In our democracy, such a decision must be voted upon. This needs a referendum that could be done along with the 2024 general elections. There is no emergency for us to rename India in a jiffy. If the government refutes this without research data, it will reveal an ulterior motive, not in the best interest of the nation. If so, let’s push back.

• Remember that renaming is a long-term endeavour. The results of it will take much longer than electoral outcomes in 2024.

• Don’t forget Shakespeare. A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet, goes the citation from Romeo and Juliet. Bharat and India are equally sweet. Nothing needs fixing in our country’s name. If India has more suitors, it suits our economy well.

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