The world's biggest election is just weeks away, and in Delhi the mood among the political classes is feverish. With an electorate of more than 700 million and 47 different parties, no trick is being ignored to lure voters.
I've enjoyed the efforts of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its octogenarian leader LK Advani to make a play for the internet generation by recruiting its own bloggers. The governing Congress Party, meanwhile, is trying to highlight its achievements over the last five years amid the global downturn. What particularly caught my eye was the effort to find the best slogan.
There's a tradition of political slogans winning and losing elections, so it's no wonder the parties want the perfect catchphrase. Congress has spent £130,000 on buying rights to the song Jai Ho ("Let there be victory") featured in Slumdog Millionaire. It is also ready to roll out the workmanlike "In unity lies India's strength, in unity lies India's progress".
The BJP is seeking to emulate Barack Obama by urging Indians to "vote for change". "Everything matters in an election," one BJP MP tells me. But slogans can be crucial. In 2004, the incumbent BJP – seeking to seize on the new economic progress enjoyed by India's middle class – selected the phrase "India Shining". For hundreds of millions living outside the bubble of progress, the phrase was an insult and the party suffered a surprise defeat.
By contrast, getting it right can generate vital support. In the 1960s, Congress coined the phrase "We are two, ours are two" for a family planning campaign, and in 1971, Indira Gandhi prevailed with the simple slogan "Eliminate poverty". India still suffers from overpopulation and poverty but, after all, these were only things said at elections.
Juicer that turns into a car
Away to Rajasthan for a night in a 14th-century palace, perched on an outcrop among golden farmland. Best of all, however, is the competition to spot the most unlikely vehicle on the nerve-jangling roads. We race past bullock carts, camels, dodge demonic truckers in their multi-coloured rigs and try not to hit entire families perched precariously on motorbikes. The prize goes to a man driving a mechanised sugar-cane juicer set on wheels. Sadly there's no time to stop for an explanation.
I know a man who can
So there I am in Amritsar coming home from Pakistan. The train's full, but there's a flight. The airline office won't accept credit cards or foreign currency. Three ATMs refuse my card. The travel agent knows a man who can get on his scooter, dash across town and hand me a wad of cash. India always has a solution to unnecessary problems.Reuse content