By Nataranjan Bohidar
The matter of poverty must engage us all Indians. Except the lot of us who are in advertising. After all, why waste time with them who have no purchasing power…to purchase us or purchase our advertising or purchase ad space-time…or even purchase what is now a fourth “estate” on the market, edit space-time? It isn't that we care for money. After all, money can't buy us love or can it? Because when it does, it's such a gas. Notice how mysteriously the famous, and now infamous, 15% we are supposed to be making as ad agents - which is why we became ad agents in the first place – simply evaporates into thin air leaving us a mere percentage or two or reluctant three… So, please Jack, keep your hands of my stash! And cut out the do goody good bull shit! After all the wheeling and dealing, I barely make a living…
Unfortunately, not Jack, but one Mr/s. C. Notplace (surely not a real name!) has decided to poke his nose...and hand…into precisely the stash stashed away as black money in poor India and outside. In a post on my last article, “The Vinci Code of Mastermind”, he has come up with a stunning statistical solution that should put money in every Indian’s hand and thereby keep advertising types like us reasonably interested in how they spend it. Mr/s. Notplace (definitely not his/her real name!) has suggested that the INR 155 trillion (or 155 lakh crore rupees, if you like) that has reportedly been blacked away should be equally distributed among all Indians @ INR 130,000/- per man , woman and child …and voila , it will turn into a wonderful shade of white and become the locomotive - running on nuclear power no doubt, so that it doesn’t spew black fossil fuel burning fumes as it speeds along - of modern powerful no-longer poor India.
This is astonishing! What Mr/s. Notplace (cannot be a real name!) is implying is what some financial experts told me when I asked them about it …and it is this:
While INR 130,000/- will lie in the bank in the name of each Indian - man , woman and child - the Govt. can happily plough the entire 155 trillion into projects that earn upwards of 15% annually (15% appears to be a magical figure, my ad brethren and sisteren!). This way each Indian - man, woman and child - can earn 10% on his or her fixed deposit of 130,000/- annually and the Govt. can keep the remaining 5% or anything more it makes. Now, that would be an interest earning of Rs. 1000/- per man, woman, child per month which is about equal to the monthly earning of the vast majority (75%) of Indians (Source: TOI / TIG, ADB 2010). This doubling of income would simple propel the 825 million poor Indians into the Indian Middle Class - yes, that very famous class that is directly in the sights of every advertiser and marketer in India…Now, imagine that sweet spot growing to more than a phenomenal 1.1 billion ! The current 275 million Indian Middle Class that is the envy of the world would look anaemic in comparison!
In a single inclusive stroke – or should one say, in a single intrusive post – Shri/mati Notplace (how can this be a real name?) has lifted every Indian to middle class status or above…by virtue of increased income. Add to that security in the form of F.D. of over a lakh of rupees per capita. And annual interest income of INR 8 trillion ( Rs. 80 lakh crores) for Govt. to do as it pleases – spend on services, utilities, infrastructure and/or settle its internal/external debt or pay its employees what the Wage Board is commandeering the newspapers to pay its peons and drivers. At the same time s/he (what’s the real name of Notplace, for heaven’s sake?) has left 155 trillion INR with the Govt. to invest where and how it likes to earn a minimum 15% on that staggering sum per annum to keep up a middle class of 1,198,000,000 and a Rich Upper Class of about 2 million, who having no need for the INR 260 billion in their F.D.’s, being so rich already, would simply donate that amount to charities of all kinds! (Recent reports suggest that they are magnanimously already doing this …that, in the case of a single disclosure in Puttaparthi a sum of Rs. 33crores was found in a single room donated for religious purposes, not including worth of gold idols and other jewellery and jewel clad accoutrements.)
Political scientists I met on the matter saw a very different angle in the suggestion made by Notplace (who is this wo/man?), that they spun out of the economic. They believed that one of the reasons for India’s lack of trust in any government they elect is that we have simply no measure of good governance. We are trusting people and we rate governments high when it is high on making false promises and we rate governments low when they are low on making false promises….Because Indian just cannot make out the falsity of it all- as to which promises can be kept and which cannot - being new to the nation building process, they fall back on age old tried and tested practices…ergo, Indians would much rather donate to religious trusts for soul salvation than pay taxes to a government they do not trust that they may well have elected. But this is only a small dichotomy in their minds...of an honest people who want to believe in nation building but just cannot cope with the impersonal nature of that activity. In contrast, the relationship with a mendicant is direct, interpersonal and much more gratifying. This came as a stunning consumer insight to me… that between a seemingly “dishonest” politician and a perhaps “duping” Baba an Indian may actually prefer the latter! (Many in fact told me that there was a need for a "Godpal Bill" to protect god-men from over zealous tax and police men and loose cannons among politicians!)
Be that as it may, both political scientists and economists were sotto voce in their opinion that empowered with INR 155 trillion in our bank a/c – equally divided among every man, woman and child – we would be in a position to rate just how good (or bad) our government is in managing this awesome moolah of 155 trillion, because every rupee made or lost would show in our bank accounts, equally, and there would be nothing to hide! The simplest test, they said, would be to track how our current elected reps invest that money. Do they earn the requisite 15%, which should be the par value add, the gold standard if you like (10% for us and 5% for their expenses) or do they earn less or more? Quite logically the government that earns more than the 15% benchmark is more capable than the one that earns less.
(My sociologist friends were at loggerheads with this! They believed that earning more by making morally eroding investments would be counterproductive...this is borne out by the earlier quoted fact that people trust a Baba to be morally superior to a politician …so while thy agreed that 15% was a satisfactory number, they weren’t quite sure which kind of investment enhanced QoL - Quality of Life - and which was degrading. I will go into this in detail in a later article as also what my literary colleagues said as they laughed off this fantasy of mine. Well, they thought it was mine because I didn’t tell them it was one Notplace’s idea, because then they would never have taken such a name seriously. They would have turned it into “Nutcase” or something similar, view of the facility the copywriting literary types have with words…But, really, Notplace…hmm…what a strange name, indeed!)
As for my advertising colleagues they were equally interested and equally befuddled. But they equivocally clung on to the lost opportunity of a trillion rupees generated to bribe voters for their, well, vote and INR 5 trillion in cash squandered away every 5 years at election time…haphazardly flung away to lure those voters who would then vote for politicians who would then go and legislate that those who voted for them should not be allowed to drink till many years after they have voted! Because the advertising fraternity is full of young men and women they found it impossible to understand how they could be trusted to take a bribe and vote at a certain age but not trusted to drink responsibly at that very same age! This simply got their goat. They swore that they will now trap that trillion by making one concerted INR 700 billion industry pitch urging ummidwars and their parties to divert that annual trillion of slush from bribing citizens to fashioning successful advertising and communication strategies centred around what the candidate and/or party would do when it came to power with the INR155 trillion it would get to invest in 15% annual return schemes. They finally had a hook to hang their campaigns on, in place of the no-brainer mug shots and cheesy smiles that had put them off from “electioneering” lest they be pushed into arranging these self same no-brainer mug shots and cheesy smiles, for a mere percentage or two or reluctantly three as ad commission , on posters and hoardings in any “bootiful” color embellished with ghodas, haathis, chakris, telephones, cycles, pumps, hand pumps, locks, keys, flowers , petals, jeeps , cars, limos, lamps as excuses for branding ! The younger among the ad frat now believed that if through such persuasion they could divert 50% of the slush to advertising expenses, media industry turnover would grow 70% in a single year and break the trillion INR glass ceiling before the next elections and stay that way for many many years in their very own lifetime…
My philosopher friends were, however, caustic. They pulled out an acid piece drafted by a cynic amongst them when she heard that the United Nations was going to miss its millennium goal deadline of eradicating poverty from the face of this earth. I reproduce this bitter tract below and look forward to your reactions…(As you can see I take your posts , letters, comments, criticism, barbs, feedback, very very seriously…so , please don’t stop ! Simply keep them coming … and thank you Mr. or Ms. Can Notplace, as the case may be …)
Of course we must endlessly discuss poverty…in fact, we must do something about it, too! But eradicate it? God forbid! What will humanity do if poverty was to be wiped off the face of the earth? Humanity would be rendered rudderless…it would simply have no reason to live…without the poor! You think this love for the poor is strange, this affection for low life odd, somewhat paranoid? Think about it …what will a government do if there was to be no one poor to govern? You can’t govern the rich …they are a government unto themselves. You can’t govern the middle class…they are the ones who draft all those documents that make the rich rich, in the first place - (that includes the Constitution, too) - in the hope that one day with all this drafting they will get rich themselves. So, what’s left to govern but the poor! From time immemorial we have played this game, ‘Be Poor or Make Poor”. To this the U.N. appears to have added a new chapter, “Keep Poor”… how else can we have those fancy summits in fancier places? And governments to host them, too, in the name of doing something for the poor that they keep! Missing MDG deadlines is part of the arrangement, of course! If you have endless poverty you will have endless MDGs. What fun! Stretching to the very crack of doom! The underdeveloped world – or the developing world, as we call it – is now simply asking the developed world to pay up because it has, in the true spirit of the game, “kept the poor”, birthed whole continents of them, because that is what it was expected to do. As per the agreed global asymmetry plan. The developed world does not want to see the poor thronging its streets, begging, spitting, scrounging, peeing in public. They set such a bad example, you know! So the poor are jettisoned off to poorer places around the planet or allowed to breed in only those places … incubate in repositories of the developing world or sanctuaries, such as those designed to hold animals…and the developing world uses a variety of instruments to accommodate the poor, keep them in their crucible of birth. Keep the poor in-bound, that is. Have you heard of a poor guy getting a passport to go try his /her fortune in a rich country? The fees and the educated paperwork are insurmountable. (Now you know the role of education!) The poor would rather remain in their poor country and stew in their poverty. So, all that the developing world wants now – or is humbly requesting for - is a fee for services rendered. For quarantining the poor. And the developing world will have that fee! Else it will release this huge humanity of poor people - call it inhumanity, if you like - into the developed world. Million cusecs by million cusecs, to flood or forage the planet! And development be damned! It’s a mirage in any case, in a vast growing desert of the poor! Developed countries need to pay the developing world a service fee…that’s all…Not for just keeping the poor off rich nations’ streets but keeping up a pool of desperately poor constantly in fear of extinction…so that this primordial cesspool of germinating life… this cauldron can be tapped, off and on, on a quota basis, as cheap labour… unorganised, to do the dirty work, and also the job of providing relief during those deeply lonely moments that the rich experience once in a while between legal partners and during, too! O, yes, the rich can be very very very lonely indeed in their quest for riches…they can be stressed out, stretched out, depressed. And who can cure them of this deep malaise? Members of the poor. Why kick the dog, when you can kick your manservant or maid. After all, dogs make such fine pets!(I’m so glad shiny ahuja’s maid now says she was never raped! That’s just the discipline the rich expect from the poor). So, where is the crisis…this looks like a great arrangement …where is the flaw? The fresh crisis is that the developed world by some strange mechanism – some call it free market mechanism that creates bubbles and bursts them, too - has, miracle of miracles, DEVELOPED A HUGE CONTINGENT OF POOR THEMSELVES! They don’t need the developing world’s poor no more. They’ve discovered their own. Bob Dylan is ready to work on Maggi’s farm, some more! Alas, the developing world had never conceived this development. In any case, the developing world does not generate its own data, dependent as it is on the developed world to tell it what the matter is with it! And in this particular case the developed world didn’t inform. Not a whiff! And no RTI ! That’s cheating, the developing world cries! TRUTH IS, THE DEVELOPED WORLD DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT THIS BREWING CRISIS, neither. Or so it appears! And appearances we have all been told, can be so very deceptive!”
Nataranjan Bohidar is a Sr. Management professional with 35 years of positioning experience. He held key integrated marketing and communications positions with reputed companies like NESTLE India, Bennett, Coleman & Company and leading American collaborations in the automotive industry.
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