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April 02, 2004
The man who coined the slogan 'India Shining' for the country's economic achievements never dreamt it would become a potent electoral weapon in the hands of the ruling party.
"Honestly, it was not (meant) to be political but it has turned into the hottest issue in India," said Prathap Suthan, national creative director with Grey Worldwide (India) advertising agency.
Suthan came up with the slogan in December as part of a Rs 65 crore (Rs 650 million), government-funded campaign to promote India internationally.
"We had a tight deadline and so I worked on tourism slogans (used by other countries) like 'Rule Britannia' or 'Come, Play in South Africa.' But this really clicked and has now permeated into our political language," Suthan told AFP.
'India Shining' was originally the theme for a 60-second video made by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government to highlight the steps it says it took to boost economic growth, slash interest rates, stabilise prices, expand road and telecom and health networks, and offer free basic education.
The blurb aired 9,472 times on television in December and January, second only to ads for the government's anti-polio campaign, according to privately run TV monitoring agency, Tam.
Now the two words have been taken over by the BJP and are at the core of its electioneering for parliamentary elections to be held in four phases starting April 20.
India's Election Commission banned the slogan's broadcast, until the ballot ends on May 10, after the opposition Congress party complained it has given the BJP an unfair image boost at the expense of the taxpayer.
But that has not stopped BJP politicians from using it liberally on the campaign trail -- or the Congress from trying to cloud over their efforts.
The polls are seen as a direct contest between the BJP, which hopes to retain power for the fourth time since 1996, and the Congress, which has ruled India for the better part of the past five decades.
"The result is already known even before the elections because we have made India shine," said BJP chief Venkiah Naidu.
"It may be shining for some in the government but definitely not for entire India," retorted Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
Ashutosh Khanna, chief of Grey Worldwide, said he was stunned by the Pied Piper appeal of 'India Shining.'
"We treated it as a societal-change campaign but now we feel awesome. (Such success) does not happen in a lifetime," said Khanna.
"'India Shining' should be worth Rs 5,000 crore (Rs 50 billion) because of the publicity generated from all the chat shows, articles and seminars on the subject," he said.
Even sports writers have taken to using the slogan to hail India's victory on Pakistani cricket grounds.
Filmmaker Bharat Bala said 'India Shining' had become part of the Indian psyche mainly due to massive 'media leverage.'
Shivaji Sarkar, of the independent Indian Institute of Mass Communications, said the repeated broadcast of the state-funded campaign was responsible for the runaway popularity of the slogan.
"Today, temples are selling 'India Shining' brand incense sticks and there's a Swiss knife with the same logo. This goes to show what advertising can do, especially during election time," he said.
Grey's Suthan said the slogan was more than just a commercial gimmick.
"'India Shining' is all about pride. It gives us brown-skinned Indians a huge sense of achievement. Look at the middle-class and they tell the story of a resurgent India," he said.