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