Brand India in Davos

Updated on: Feb 06, 2011
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The lesson from Davos 2011 is, with apologies to Charles Darwin, adapt quickly to change or perish.

Is there a ‘make-believe' world that India is trying to portray that is totally out of line with the general perceptions of the outside world? I was at the India Adda in Davos when a lady official charged with promoting “Brand India” came on the trot and aggressively accosted me.

She said that while she was doing her best to promote “Brand India”, she was constantly being pushed to a spot by her board members who checkmated her with negative media reports on India. Further, she wanted to have a chat with me about my column of May 31, 2010 titled “Is the nation in coma?”.

“Oh”, she said... “corruption is endemic not only in this country. You need to write on the more positive aspects of India”.

I retorted to this lady ‘brand ambassador' that the whole world know about all our thieving politicians. And that my article hardly reflected my personal views but was a sincere feedback and reflection for Indians of what the rest of the world thinks of us. Our conversation was interrupted when a Minister walked into the ‘Indian Adda' and our brand ambassador ran away, meekly and brusquely to heed to him.

I truly pity this brand ambassador. She has the thankless duty of trying to brand the Indian state. But our thieving, hopeless political leadership is the one that needs rebranding. Europeans and the rest of the West are very much aware of India's potential.

The world knows that India is a talented country, but they would continue to be wary of the country unless the current crop of politicians shows remorse and starts rebranding itself.

Re-orient the nation

What kind of branding are we doing in situations where majority of young people are without skill, jobless and impoverished, live in illegal, unauthorised shanty towns and squatter settlements?

What brand are we promoting when we cannot provide drinking water to majority of the people? When we still have no electricity and even in our metro cities and towns, children do not go to school and those who do, read textbooks and prepare for examinations in glow of oil lamps?

What India brand are we talking about where abandoned street children are searching for their first meal of the day in heaps of foul-smelling garbage?

Why are we branding instead of making India work so that word of mouth of Indians can rebrand India! Our recent actions have only helped in “debranding” India.

Instead of the throes of branding the nation, it is much better to re-orient the nation and its political leadership!

Now contrast this with what happened in an India session. All of us know a double negative occurs when two forms of negation are used in the same sentence to rescind one another and produce an assenting, affirmative sense. And this is precisely what happened at the India session on the penultimate day of Davos.

The Indian dignitaries sitting on the panel, pre-empted and collectively concluded that “greed, graft and corruption” had increased in India and such aberrations were unavoidable when a country was growing at such a “high-speed”.

To add salt to injury, participants in the session, largely Indians, were highly critical of India's weak governance and the fact that reforms were yet to trickle down to the population.

Double negative

And, guess the result — a back-handed compliment was paid by a Harvard Professor who said that “it was good to see Indian leaders admit their “misdemeanours and shortcomings, proactively”.

There was a standing ovation by an audience — mostly Indians. But not many understood the compliment remains “back-handed” because the speaker was intentionally snubbing and slighting. In Western cultures, back-handed compliments are considered to belittle, a gracious way of expressing contempt.

That is the position the country has strategically placed itself in — a position of ridicule.

It is hugely shameful to know that one's beloved country has attained such height of low that we need to hang our head in shame.

The saving grace, as always, was the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) which made a major splash at Davos with its all-encompassing ‘India Inclusive' theme, making sure the country dominated this year's Summit.

Adapt or Perish

Davos is often criticised as a great gabfest without tangible results. It has its critics, who tend to focus on the event's bloat, self-importance, and potential for losing its uniqueness by becoming too watered down.

I have attended the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos for over a dozen years and, to keep the record straight, I must reverentially mention a few points.

Did this year's Davos — committed by its logo to “improve the state of the world” — really make a difference? Short of waving a magic wand, getting on the spot results at such a rambling event would be unattainable. As Admiral Lord Nelson said “...the battle of Trafalgar was won in the playgrounds of Eaton”.

Davos has its intangible benefits. Davos attendees have the power to move mountains, and to find tangible ways to make this happen. The lessons learned from Davos 2011, no doubt applicable to various sectors of industry and government and with apologies to Charles Darwin, adapt quickly to a changing environment or, perish.

The lesson from Davos 2011 is, with apologies to Charles Darwin, adapt quickly to change or perish.

(The author is former Europe Director, CII and lives in Cologne, Germany. >blfeedback@thehindu.co.in )

Published on February 07, 2011

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