India’s Telangana fight explores new frontiers in political attack ads

August 4, 2013

(Note to readers: contains slightly graphic language and an aggressively provocative image.)

Dear American political consultants: you might think you know how to produce negative political attack ads, but you have much to learn. Caravan magazine’s senior editor Jonathan Shainin on Sunday shared on Twitter what he called “Unquestionably the greatest political poster of all time.” I admit that I have made no broad study, but this ad, coming from Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh, seems to me to break some kind of sound barrier in the business. (Correction: I cannot confirm that this ad appeared in Hyderabad. A readers whose comment appears below tells  me that the ad appears in Tanuku in West Godavari District)

The Telugu-language ad features a local politician scolding Lok Sabha parliamentarian K Chandrasekhar Rao, a proponent of splitting Andhra Pradesh into two states. Reuters explains why creating a new state, Telangana, is controversial:

The ruling Congress party approved on Tuesday the creation of a new Telangana state, a move that has revived deep political divisions and raised fears of violence in the area, home to global firms including Google.

The decision to break up Andhra Pradesh and establish Telangana comes ahead of elections next year and critics say the ruling party is seeking to shore up its political fortunes after dragging its feet over the explosive issue for four decades.

Supporters, however, say Telangana’s economic development has been neglected in favour of the richer and more powerful Andhra region, and that a new state is the only solution…

Hyderabad, India’s sixth largest city, was a bone of contention because it fell in the proposed new state carved out of the western part of Andhra Pradesh…

One immediate consequence is likely to be renewed demands from other parts of India for separate states, including in the Darjeeling hills and a further breakup of Uttar Pradesh.

Since independence in 1947, successive governments have dealt carefully with demands for new states – creating three in 2000 – while ensuring demands did not spiral enough to threaten the integrity of a nation that now has 1.2 billion people with hundreds of languages, ethnicities and castes.

Note the boldfaced text above, which appears to be at the heart of what the ad is saying. It questions KCR’s intentions, saying, as Rahul Samkruthyayan on Twitter put it, “hyderabad ain’t ur family property.hw dare u to tell us to leave our hyd.we’ll make u piss out of fear.” One of my newest Twitter friends, Ram Prasad, a behavioural science consultant who grew up in Andhra Pradesh, said the text is a popular Telugu threat. It loosely translates to, “I will make you piss (in your pants).” Another translation that I saw rendered the phrase as, “Who are you to ask us to leave our very own city of Hyderabad? Does it belong to your pop? It is ours.”

But why does KCR’s inverted nostril bear the brunt of the baby’s onslaught? Isn’t the threat of micturition supposed to involve pants, not the nose? “Picture-text mismatch,” Prasad suggested. As it turns out, the nose is a big deal in this case. My colleague Rahul Biddappa on our Web desk in Bangalore, said that highlighting Rao’s nose is a reference to the ridicule that people have directed at him for its size.

One question that I have been unable to answer: why a white baby? Some reference to colonial oppression? Or the western businesses in Hyderabad? Indian babies don’t do things like this?  I have asked the United AP Joint Action Committee, whose name appears on the poster, for comment. The more likely answer, I’ve heard from a few people, is that it’s cheap clip art and that it was the first thing that the designers found that suited their budget…

(Photo courtesy of Sahil Rizwan)


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Dear Robert,

get your facts right before coming up with such sensitive articles. “Hyderabad, India’s sixth largest city, was a bone of contention because it fell in the proposed new state”, Hyderabad belonged Telangana even before the state was formed, It did not fall into the lap from nowhere.. don’t provide such contrived information.

Posted by ManaTelangana | Report as abusive

Thanks for your reply. I did not write those words. It appears to me that Hyderabad at the time of this writing remains a city in Andhra Pradesh, regardless of where people think it ought to be or where it was in the past. I could be wrong, of course.

Posted by Robert MacMillan | Report as abusive

It’s not only about the facts, but the whole discussion is as if to create hype, for such an atrocious act and the demeaning intentions of just a small group of people, towards a public representative. Subsiding many major things to be considered with such a drastic change to come, by pointing at a very little thing!

By the way, the ad is placed in a town named Tanuku in West Godavari District, which is my native place.

For more details,

Posted by vamsynkrishna | Report as abusive

Thanks for this. I read what you wrote about my blog post. You will notice that this is a small, tangential story about an advertisement, not a story about Telangana, which we have covered in all seriousness that is the topic’s due. What or who is the bullet’s target, by the way?

Posted by Robert MacMillan | Report as abusive

Thanks for your reply. I haven’t noticed your reply, to my comment, until I was observing the visits to my blog!

Well, what I meant using ‘bullet’ and ‘trigger’ was, an influential person can trigger a trend in social media, so easily, formally or informally! A discussion like this, can create a havoc to the normal on-goings! We have seen such situations, in the media in past.

My opine is, everybody has a right to raise their voice in a democratic country like India! But, unnecessary reactions for such a time-waste presentations, is not required! There are many such presentations, all over India. Burning the Public Representatives’ statues and such other.

Posted by vamsynkrishna | Report as abusive

pls takeoff this news, He represents popular democratic demand, It is extremely provocative and may hurts 40 million people sentiments.

Posted by bluepurpule | Report as abusive

hey robert
The picture in the article shows the real nature of seemandhra people, which is their true color. As a telanganite i strongly condemn this action, and no police cases were filed on this yet. This is not at all fair on their part and political leaders should not encourage this kind of things and support to the state formation.
Thank you
Jai telangana
remembering the telangana martyrs.

Posted by sundeept | Report as abusive

Frustrated Andra region people, are doing this kind of non-sense. Every political party had already took a decision in favor of Telangana. So my question is other political heads are feared of KCR and they are pissing out and took decision?. Useless idiots do these kind of advt. Something should be progressive or it should make sense when you try to agitate.

Posted by Sushanth | Report as abusive