Today is my day. Not India’s. Not Gubara ji’s. This day belongs to me.
They won’t write chapters on me in your history books. No, those will definitely belong to India, to Gubara ji. To his hologram rallies, and his hollow promises. You know you too will be a part of these history books, clubbed under ‘the people of India’, that emotive warcry, the mela that thinks in unison. Together the people of India would have banded in a revolution to overthrow the past regime, to put all their aspirations behind one candidate, or so would claim some esteemed historian. That is how the future folks (whatever comes after Gen Z, we sure have run out of alphabets) would see us.
But it’s me, I want to scream. It’s all me. This glory comes from me, and so it belongs to me. Without me, there could be no revolution. Without me there could be no balloon occupying the biggest chair of this country. Without me leading one thirty crore Indians to progress would be another ordinary, four-limbed human.
I’m rambling, I know. I’m sorry. Four years have gone by without any introspection. When Apcot came to me, when I saw that mail in my inbox, (the subject line had my chest skip ten beats, “Project Satta: Electing India’s Next Prime Minister”), my heart went numb and my brain went on autopilot.
A part of what frustrates me about this oblivion is that there never has been a marketing campaign this big. For at least the next decade, there never will be. It is not just my magnum opus, it is the magnum opus of the entire field of marketing. As psychological invasions go, nothing beats crores of people voting for a balloon prime minister. Surely that’s why this project consumed me. I remember that mail, I remember thinking I have a chance to rescue India. From its corrupt leaders, from its wilfully ignorant crowds, its oppressive systems. I remember saying yes, then looking at the six year budget and feeling my throat dry up with the power that money could wield. Big money, it’s called. An underwhelming name, to be honest.
Our first choice wasn’t a balloon. If I’d replied to that mail proposing such a thing, I’d have been fired, and I certainly don’t mean from my job. India was running out of credible leaders but we still had hopes in humans. A youth leader, a woman leader, a minority caste leader, there was a lot that could be done with identity. Obama, 2008 came to mind. It was the first political campaign, after all, to win a Cannes award for best marketing. Could we prop up a corporate-cozy Dalit? An Obama for India?
But as the joke goes, if you’re a corporate’s son expecting some pocket money for topping your exams, you better hope the results are publicly listed. Big money would burn at the thought of making India caste conscious. We needed a plan B. And we needed it fast. The elections were only five years away now!
It was in this moment of desperation I realised where this country was headed. Hundreds of political parties and not one candidate promising enough to make the face of India Inc. Making things worse was the Indian Welfare Party, refusing to privatize, refusing to end those poor-people cash grabs, the midday meals and the employment yojanas and other virtue-signaling vulgarities. It was time to go bold or go home, and I was all in for the b-word.
I wore my best suit that day. India Inc needed the Welfare Party to go titanic and I knew just the iceberg. Big money runs big media. And big media is big marketing. It was a fairly simple thought. Expose two three corrupt politicians from the party, fabricate two three others. Malign the whole party for it, run the news on loop twenty four seven, till the people rile up and come to the streets demanding change.
It went even better than expected. Activists got involved. A country as diverse as India can only ever be united by its hate for ghoos. The day that poor old Anna Waghdare sat on a fast unto death is when we knew this manufactured movement had found a life of its own. India Without Corruption was formed, and we suddenly had a Big NGO in need of Big Money. We could then suddenly bring actors, sports stars, all the emotive personalities to attend his fast. Soon India was engulfed by the biggest protest it had seen in decades.
Apcot was impressed. I went from contributing to our marketing strategy to chairing it. Those days my heart felt like it would push past the ribcage and jump out my chest, knowing this country was changing to my designs. I would spend my time in commute or in shower just staring at my hand, throat drying up with excitement as I would feel the power I wielded. Believe me when I say, today is my day and my day alone.
Within two years we had propped up an entire political movement out of thin air. The Welfare Party was fuming but it was too late for them. Their approval ratings dropped so low, I’m sure even the colonizers would have found it embarrassing. But that’s when we hit our first and probably our biggest setback. A bunch of activists from India Without Corruption had suddenly decided they wanted to stop protesting and contest national elections. The only big problem-- they refused corporate donations. The entire momentum of our manufactured rage was suddenly being stolen by these activists, and in a lot of ways they would prove worse than the Welfare Party. The Apcot clients were furious. And their rage fell on the chairwoman. Me.
I hate our species. I genuinely despise it. But this new party had really sealed the deal for me. Humans could not be trusted, it dawned on me and it was then that I knew what my deductions implied. If I was going to be fired, I had to at least give this bold idea a shot.
Gubara ji. That’s our guy. I remember running the pitch in my head. If superman, the actual superman, was to run for presidential elections in the US, he would win. Belief doesn’t seek reason! Humans will believe in anyone when they’re in a crisis. And right now, we are. There is no one even remotely close to deserving to be our PM, and the people know it. They are angry. Let’s tell them the change won’t come from any human. The more I rehearsed the pitch, the more I knew I’d be thrown out of Apcot in a canon. And so I decided, as chairman on autopilot, to go full throttle.
I secretly funnelled some money to Zed News, and the narrative began to change. India was no longer a hopeless country. A balloon had risen, and it had all the answers. Before you knew it, Zed reporters were talking of a gubbare ki lehar sweeping the entire nation. Abki baar gubara sarkaar became a jingle that bombarded every tv channel. What happens when you take the most outrageous statement in the world and say it on repeat hour after hour, day after day? When you throw money at people to say they will vote for a balloon, and put them in a video you pass off as actual testimonies? What happens when you take the craziest of absurdities and pass them off as real truths? Nothing new, it’s just marketing.
There was something so enamoring about Gubara ji. He was a balloon. He had no history, so our best writers could give him one. He was a tea seller’s balloon. Filled with the air of poverty. And so, naturally the best solution for it. We passed him around in our corporate circle and every boss blew a lie into him. He grew and grew until he was 56 inches wide, and then he grew some more. Humans could be corrupted, but never a balloon, news channels proclaimed. What did a balloon stand for, they argued. Nothing, except the air that filled it. With a tiny string we carried him to rallies that blazed speeches he couldn’t write but was quoted for.
Gubara ji became so huge, that when I held his string, I could feel the tug of India. Of all her aspirations. I would wonder if what I was doing was right. But then I looked at the people in the rallies. Surely they see something in this balloon, I thought, forgetting it was our big money that had manufactured this devotion. The opposition did not take him seriously. He was a balloon, they cried. I know, I would think, that’s kind of the point. He’s hollow, he doesn’t stand for anything, yet when people see him they believe India will progress, India will shine. Gubara ji is our future prime minister, I suddenly knew with a conviction I can never explain.
The legal issues were easy to fix. An expensive lawyer, and an intriguing interpretation of citizenship laws, and Gubara ji won the Election Commission’s approval. The campaign days went by in an even bigger blur. Years went by in weeks, and then today happened. Gubara ji had won. To avoid confusion, this historic moment was announced with only confetti, no balloons. I saw him standing there, his string tied to a party karyakarta’s hand. And I wondered if he was proud of me. Six years of propaganda was catching up to me. Even I had begun to humanize him.
I’m sure I’ve done the right thing. Like a true hero, I will live outside history books but I will see it being made every day. Soon India Inc will prosper. Gubara ji will be the instrument through which corporations will bring progress to India. The next ten years will define the age of unrestricted growth and capitalism. And with the media on our side, no one will beat him. Although irrationally, I have started worrying what would happen if we’re struck by a crisis. A tsunami or a pandemic. Corporations have no solutions for it, and a balloon can’t do much. But surely, the world will never change so much. Surely our media will manage to shield him. Surely if such a day comes, people won’t realise Gubara ji is just a balloon. Full of just air.
As long as he is full of helium and lies, he will soar high.