Ahead of the 2019 General Elections, supporters of the two leading parties take to hip hop to woo young voters. We just can't stop imagining PM Modi and Rahul Gandhi going at it rapper style.
The latest digital videos in support of the two rival political parties, Congress and BJP, look nothing like the bland 'sarkari' ads of the past. Instead, they're peppy, hip-hop-themed rap numbers in their own right. Lyrics like - "Bolo Azadi!" - remind us of many things, including intense scenes from Imtiaz Ali's Ranbir Kapoor starrer - Rockstar. 'Sadda Haq, Ithay Rakh', remember? And spoofs around it that went 'Sadda Haq, what the f***?'
It all started when a rap video in support of the BJP party and PM Modi was put up on Twitter recently. Not long after that, supporters of the Congress party countered with a rap video of their own. In their respective videos, the two parties accuse one another of corruption. The message in the BJP's video is "Congress Se Azadi" (Freedom from Congress) while Congress went with "Dar ke aage azadi" (Freedom Before Fear).
It's amazing that these loud rap songs, with bold lyrics that take digs at rival politicians, are part of 'mainstream political advertising'.
If you think this unconventional move on the part of the Congress and BJP has anything to do with the popularity of the Ranveer Singh-starrer - Gully Boy - a movie about Mumbai's thriving underground street rap scene, think again. The fact is (and yes we're willing to give rappers Divine and Dub Sharma some credit - after all, they are the ones who created the song 'Azadi' for the movie!), this 'political rap' move is more about wooing India's 100 million first-time voters (approximate number, as reported in ET, Business Standard and other newspapers) than anything else.
The new generation of voters who spend most of their waking time online are likely to run into these videos and see this ongoing political rivalry as something that's relevant to them and warrants their time and attention. If these videos actually make them go out and vote, that would really be something.
So the question is, can the BJP and Congress rap their way into youngsters' hearts?
Vivek Avasthi, senior editor - politics, Business Television India (BTVI), shares some figures: Each year, about 20 million Indians turn 18, becoming eligible to vote. About 30 million Indians were aged 10 in 2011 and will be eligible to register as voters in the 2019 elections.
"First-time voters are of utmost importance to both the BJP and Congress parties," Avasthi states. He believes that both parties have "floundered in their effort" with their Azadi-themed rap videos. "The Congress film is too confused and does not provide a direct message to the youth of the country. The BJP film is almost the same as it starts with a farmer complaining about the lack of water and farmer suicides in the country. Both films seem to have missed the mark; they've gone haywire...," Avasthi adds.
Lamenting about the lack of emphasis on education and jobs in both videos, Avasthi says, "I do not think either party will be able to pull the youth towards their respective parties through these films... they should come up with fresher advertisements that give the youth of the country hope."
Narayan Devanathan, group executive and strategy officer, Dentsu Aegis Network South Asia, says, "At the risk of sounding out of touch with the youth, I'd say their response would be something along the lines of 'ROTFL! LOL! LMAO! HOW DO I UNSEE THIS?'"
On a more serious note, he adds, "Clearly, both parties are influenced by their perceptions of the first-time voter. They could've done worse than rip-off the flavour of the day, i.e. Gully Boy."
Devanathan cautions against two mistakes, "They shouldn't be superficial in their interactions with and attempts to connect with first-time voters. We don't have an Emma Gonzalez or David Hogg (or even an Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) here in India yet, but it's probably just a matter of time before one turns up. Secondly, one must not assume youngsters are uni-dimensional and that catchy rip-offs of the track-of-the day are all they're about."
Devanathan goes on to say, "A truth about those born with a social media spoon in their mouths is that 'untruths' don't stay hidden for too long from them. And if the only flavour you offer is tutti-fruity and they prefer a scoop each of multiple flavours in life, they'll click the 'NOTA' button before you can say 'Gully gully mein shor hai!"
Dalbir Singh, co-founder and managing partner of Kiss Films, an ad film production and content creation company, says, "Today, our leading parties are very savvy advertisers. Releasing such topical items shows good communication skills. Of course, this will not be the only thing they'll do. As a genre, it (rap) traditionally has had limited appeal and been an underground movement. It remains to be seen how much it cuts across the length and breadth of the nation. It's great to see political advertising enter into a zone that was never tried before."
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A quick recap to BJP's advertising past: