For Congress, time to have a Punjab Model!!!

For the Grand Old Party of India – the Congress, yesterday the 16th of Dec, 2017 was a historic day. Or that’s what the Congress and the media made us to believe. A day in which their long waiting scion, Rahul Gandhi was finally crowned as the President of the party a post held by his mother, father, grandmother, great grandfather and great great grandfather in the past. While it was a very natural event which needed to happen one day or the other, Rahul takes charge at a time when an arduous task lies ahead.  That of pulling the party from the woods which it has got into since 2014. But for Punjab recently, electoral successes for the party have been far and few between. But, all hopes are not lost. The ruling behemoth called the BJP may be clinically executing its mission of a “Congress Mukt Bharat” and coming close to achieving it as well. But that doesn’t mean that in a country like India, Congress is out for ever. As the “once party with a difference” – BJP grows, it cannot escape afflicting itself with the trappings of power and the downsides that come along with it. As the principal opposition party with a national footprint, the Congress can certainly hope for its time to come.  And Rahul Gandhi being the current heir of the “Gandhi turned Nehru parivar”, can also hope to become the Prime Minister of India, one day. I am not saying that this could happen in 2019 or even in 2024. But for a 47 year old, Rahul can certainly count on his chances sometime in the future.

Having said that, just counting on his chances or luck will not be enough to resurrect the party and become the PM of India. Not in these times. Certainly not with a competitor who is developing a sense of invincibility by the election. Tomorrow is the counting day for state elections of Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat and by this time, it will be clear if Rahul’s stars are in the upswing or they continue to betray him. The exit polls have not been kind. Anyway, irrespective of the final results, Rahul Gandhi needs to have a game plan for the next 20 years for his party. First, to become a formidable opposition to BJP and then to become a credible party of governance.  At a time when Rahul takes up the new mantle, this piece aims to provide some unsolicited advice in this direction to the Grand Old Party. That also means that this has nothing to do with what is going to happen with the Gujarat results. The advice is irrespective.

Now that the Congress has a clear face by way of Rahul Gandhi, it needs its own “Model”. While it can continue to attack NarendraModi and the BJP for all their fallacies, the question in the mind of the “unattached” voter is, what does Congress stand for today?  It’s my view that in general, core voters are loyal to their own parties, come what may. It’s the non-core voters who determine the swing and accordingly the winner. Today, the non-core voters are usually the urban middle class, women in general and the youth who have got into the voting net in the last few years. I have found that these groups are Ideology agnostic and make up their minds based on what is it for them as individuals. The youth of today are not aware of what Congress did or did not when it was in power for most part of 70 years in Independent India. Modi and the BJP have been very effective in reminding these voters of the omissions and commissions of the Congress. Hence, Congress needs to have a positive narrative of what they could do now, if they come to power which is different from the past and from what BJP is doing. The easiest thing is to showcase this in one state first. Take up a state where you are in power. Nurture an effective leader. Focus on governance. Do all what you feel BJP is not doing. Finally, Deliver, Deliver and Deliver. Make this a showcase. In short make this state a Model! And effectively “market” this model!

Today, the biggest issue with Congress is its credibility. There is no state which can be shown as a success story for the Congress. Congress had a great chance when it wrested back Karnataka from the BJP 5 years ago. But it has squandered its chances there with some lacklustre performance. As Karnataka goes to polls in 2018, Congress has its back against the wall.

Having missed the opportunity in Karnataka, the next bet for Rahul is to focus on Punjab, a state which Congress wrested from the SAD-BJP combine in 2017. With more than 4 years to go for the electoral test there, time is ripe for the Congress to demonstrate its capability and come up with its own “Punjab model”. It has nothing to lose and in fact everything to gain. It has just come to power in the back of severe anti-incumbency and promise of better governance. It has got a Chief Minister who I am told is an effective leader (Only time will tell) and who has a mind and brain of his own. Punjab is not a Bihar. It has been one of the wealthier states in the country. Agriculture and Industry have been thriving. So, for Congress to focus, identify the gaps in governance and focus on plugging them should not be difficult. In fact, Rahul should summon the entire might of the Congress in supporting the CM and ensure by 2022, the state is No.1 in terms of economic growth, infrastructure and social indices. And go for re-election with the narrative of its own “Punjab model”! 

In marketing, we often talk of a concept of “One-Three-Five-Many” by which we first successfully launch a product in one market, make it a success and then take it to three, five and then many other markets. I see no reason why Congress cannot follow the same. After making a success of Punjab, Congress then can focus on capturing few other vulnerable states in 2023 like MP, Chattisgarh, Rajasthan,.. which by then in all probability would be inflicted from severe Anti-Incumbency and fatigue. Having 3-5 major states in the pocket is when Congress will be in any serious position to take a shot at the Centre.

Immediately after BJP’s rousing win in UP this year, Omar Abdullah in part jest and part irony tweeted that the opposition should forget 2019 and start planning and hoping for 2024. Developing a marketable “Punjab model” by 2022 could be that plan and hope.  Or else, wait and watch for BJP to implode, Ram Bharose!!!

Postscript: While on this, cannot avoid but sharing this joke:

Congress worker: Sirji, for us to come back to power, we need a successful Punjab model.

RaGa: Why just one? We always have many successful models from Punjab:) 🙂


Nano – Tata’s and India’s miss!

Tucked in between the noisy and newsy headlines in India in the last week around Love Jihad, Rahul Gandhi’s religion, Ivanka Trump’s costumes in Hyderabad and other inanities, was a poignant news bit about the Nano car. Poignant, because it said that dealers have stopped placing new orders for the car and in the month of October, just a measly number of 57 cars were shipped. And this led to political jibes from Rahul Gandhi that the PM’s pet ‘Make in India’ project just died. He also tweeted that Rs. 33,000 crore of tax payer’s money and that too of Gujaratis’ turned into ash. Coming in the midst of a vitriolic election campaign in Gujarat, one can excuse politicians for spicing up their speeches without looking at the larger picture. The point is taking potshots at Nano’s failure is taking potshots at India. Failure of Nano is not just a failure of Ratan Tata or the Tatas but a blot on India.

Cut to year 2008, when Nano was first launched, it was the biggest story of India Inc. ever. When Ratan Tata initially announced that Tata Motors is working on a Rs. 1 lac (US$2500) car, it was met with excitement and skepticism in equal measure. So, finally when Tata did launch the car with a price tag of Rs. 1 lac, the world did look up and notice. Finally, here was a car which was conceived in India, designed and developed by Indians with indigenous technology and manufactured in India that broke all cost frontiers unimaginable by car manufacturers till then. Overnight, Ratan Tata was the toast of the nation.

Around the 2008-10 time period, whenever I met any foreigner from Japanese to Americans, our conversations invariably touched upon the Nano car and how this was pulled off. And those visiting India always wanted to see a Nano car on the road and take a picture in front of one. Selfies didn’t exist then! The Chairman of a well- known Indian group who drove a Camry, proudly told me that he was the first among to book a Nano in Mumbai and to get delivery as well. At that time, Nano was yet to be seen in big numbers in Mumbai. But on a visit to Colombo in 2011, Nano had already captured the “Budget Taxi” space there. Media was full of interviews of not just Ratan Tata but also of the R&D engineers who had designed the Nano.  Nano’s launch was the culmination of a series of stories in which India Inc. was part of then. It was believed that Nano would be a live case study for C.K. Prahalad’s “Fortune at the bottom of the pyramid” theory!

That was not be and the excitement around Nano soon started tapering. Unfortunate incidents of the Nano going up on flames on the road didn’t help at all. For a product which was expected to expand the car market by 65% or so, the sales was plateauing around 70,000 Units a year for 2-3 years before nose diving to what is a few hundred cars this year. The failure of the Nano car must be one of the most analyzed and discussed case study in B- Schools, I reckon. Most of what I have been reading, attribute its failure to the “positioning” of the car as the world’s cheapest car in the beginning.  The Quality failures adding “fuel to the fire”. Attempts to re-position the car as a “Cool Urban car”,… didn’t help either. I have a different view on the reasons for the failure of the Nano car. But will keep that for another blog.

In business, they say there is no room for emotions and decisions need to be taken based on just commercial considerations. The ousted Chairman of the Tata Group, Cyrus Mistry recently said that during his time it was decided to pull the plug on Nano as it didn’t make commercial sense, after attempts to revive the project failed.  As of now it hasn’t happened. The current Chairman Chandrasekhar has been more considerate, probably towing Ratan Tata’s emotional line. He has said that there is a need to take a more “holistic” view on the Nano project. And I tend to agree.

Nano was not a Tata story. It was and is an India story. Ergo, failure of Nano in a way is an indictment on the capability and potential of Indians. And as somebody said, “Nano was not an Idea. It was an ideology!” Ideas can fail. Ideologies need to linger! The failure of Nano soon opened up to “We told you so” and how can Indians pull it off” jibes. For a 3rd largest economy (GDP-PPP) in the world, India is yet to throw up globally renowned home ground brands. So far, it’s been the soft power brands like Ayurveda, Yoga, IIT and the likes which have been torch bearers for India globally. Let’s keep aside the Software brands like Infosys, Wipro,… aside for the time being. In one of my very early blogs (read here) on different styles of management, I had opined that for the world to recognise, acknowledge and adopt the “Indian style of Management”, we need stories of successful Indian companies and brands. Just like how the world adopted the American way or Japanese style when their companies were successful. And that opens the door for Indian companies, Indian products and we Indians in the global arena. Nano was uniquely positioned to be the 1st homegrown successful Indian product brand. There was an opportunity for India Inc. to have “arrived” in style. Not just that. Success of the Nano would have led to similar pushing of cost and design frontiers by other Indian companies in many other product categories. It would have opened the floodgates for Indian CEOs to apply the “frugal innovation” concept in other products. Hence my fervent hope that Nano should succeed.

So, when it failed as it has now, it has pushed back the India Inc. story by few years till we stumble upon the next Big Idea. In the meantime, Nano I believe, is slated to make a comeback in an electric avatar.  Will this avatar help Nano to claim the position of “the common man’s car” in Indian market that Ratan Tata originally envisioned 9 years ago? The world in no longer watching it with the same excitement of 2008. Away from the arc lights, the original billion dollar opportunity still beckons!

A quote alluded to Ratan Tata says, “I don’t believe in taking right decisions. I take decisions and make them right!” Nano might have been a glaring exception to this. For Ratan Tata’s sake, Nano-II should set the record straight. For India’s sake too.

Bahubali, Kattappa and some political lessons!!!

With over an estimated 30 mill. people having reportedly watched the film Bahubali 2: The Conclusion, I can safely conclude that most of those who are reading this blog by now would have! This post is not a review of the film or about how the film has broken all collection records in the country either. But about a character called Kattappa and the political lessons it holds for the principal opposition party in India namely the Congress. In the film, apart from the lead characters, Kattappa is the one who evokes much recall and sympathy – a situation very similar to what Congress (which has its own few Kattappas) finds itself today in India.  Kattappa in Bahubali and Kattappas in Congress??? Let me attempt to join the dots.

In the Bahubali series, Kattappa is an able warrior and sort of a leader of the forces of the Kingdom of Mahishmati. In terms of characterisation, Kattappa is shown as an extremely loyal, most faithful and a trustworthy soul who will do anything to protect his master – the ruler of Mahishmati in this case. He doesn’t mind others alluding him to a dog scornfully – a creature known for being utmost loyal to its master among all pets. At the same time, repeatedly he is depicted to be a prisoner of his own choice he has made in terms of being loyal at any cost. In the film there are 2 crucial mistakes he commits as a result of putting his loyalty ahead of being truthful. First, he lets the Queen announce Bhallaladeva as the King setting aside the earlier announcement of Amarendra Bahubali without making any attempt to clear the air in the Queen’s mind about the right and good intentions of Amarendra in wanting to marry Devasena. He makes no attempt to let the Queen know that Devasena likes and prefers only Amarendra to be her life partner. Second, he carries out the order of the Queen to kill Amarendra though he knew very well of the conspiracy of the Bhallaladeva camp to create misunderstanding and confusion in the Queen’s mind. These crucial mistakes deprived the people of Mahishmati the governance of a benevolent leader like Amarendra and instead were at the mercy of an unkind and autocratic ruler like Bhallaladeva.

Well, that’s what happened in the 2 part film that helped the Director weave an interesting story of palace intrigues in a huge canvas unseen so far in Indian films and create history!  But what has Congress to do with this?

Today in India, the Congress party is in crossroads and may be at its lowest ebb. The climb has been downhill since 2014 when it was reduced to an all-time low in the Lok Sabha. The string of defeats in most of the state elections since then have been catastrophic. The principal ruling party in India namely the BJP is systematically moving forward on its slogan of making Bharat – Congress Mukt. Apart from Congress there is no other party which can be called truly a Pan Indian political outfit. Under these circumstances for a democracy to be one, a truly credible opposition party with an alternate narrative is a must. Any ruling party must have at least one if not few other parties breathing down its neck any point in time for its own checks and balances. Not to mention of the country’s. And that’s why a revival of the Congress party from where it is today is a must.

Congress led UPA had their chances in changing and developing India for 10 years since 2004. I am for the moment ignoring the 50 years they had, prior to 1998.  Congress had and in fact has quite a few Kattappas in their ranks. Experienced, Able politicians and administrators who I believe had answers and solutions to the many ills the country faced when they came back to power rather providentially in 2004. However all of them ended up being true Kattappas who only put loyalty to the rulers (Gandhi family in this case) as their priority and did what served the family well rather than the country more often than not. The result – in spite of the benefit of global tailwinds helping the economy till 2010, UPA couldn’t change things much on the ground in their 2nd term and lost the elections to BJP in 2014.  The many new ideas their leaders had, got intertwined in turf battles between ministries and never were implemented with rigour. Coming back to the present, the Kattappas of the Congress continue their old ways the string of bad news at the hustings for the Congress notwithstanding. The able leaders still remain so loyal to the Gandhi family that even today they are reluctant to come out with their honest prescriptions to revive the Congress. They all make the “right” noises in public but being “right” is seldom being “honest”! The Congress today suffers from a uninspirational leadership in the Gandhi family. However the very able and even intelligent Kattappas of the Congress party continue to labour paeans on the Sonia-Rahul leadership without ever being critical of some of their moves since 2014.

My view is that unless the Congress party’s leaders come out of their loyalty web and challenge the strategy and some of the decisions of the party’s leadership thereby leading to some churn in the thinking of the party, the drive may continue to remain downhill for some time.

Coming to think of it, it took us 2 full years since Bahubali 1: The Beginning for us to comprehend the ill effect of Kattappa’s mindless loyalty to the rulers. It’s already 3 years now for the leaders of Congress to realise the ills of theirs. And if they are among the 30 million to have watched the film, it may be good to take some political lessons from the on screen Kattappa!!!

P.S: In the above piece, one can “find” Congress and “replace” with AAP and I guess most of it will hold good as well!!!