Brand India in the time of G20

18 September 2023
Shahid Tantray
Shahid Tantray

The G20 meet’s publicity drive had billboards across the country saturated with Modi’s image. A fourth of the nearly thousand ads on the route from the airport in the capital to the guests’ hotels, according to one estimate, had the prime minister on them. This kind of personalisation is not particularly new for Modi, having occurred even when his image had less to do with the event in question than the G20 meet did—COVID-19 vaccination certificates, for instance, had his photograph, as did advertising material for the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao campaign, which spent 56 percent of its budget on marketing.

But other visuals and phrases also became associated with the summit in Delhithe lotus symbol, the G20 logo projected onto monuments, over six lakh potted plants, cut-outs of langurs to scare away real langurs, and green sheets hiding settlements and stalls the poor live and work in. There were more than two hundred events, and Rs 50.6 crore spent on ads for the G20 meet between December 2022 and April this year, hinting at the scale of the long-drawn branding exercise. Indian media claimed the country’s “soft power”—which it identified as its “civilisational heritage” and also its saris—were showcased, and if a hotel imported champagne for the president of France, Emmanuel Macron, a pashmina shawl was a parting souvenir for Brazilian president Lula da Silva’s wife. G20 poster-making competitions were even held at schools.

There were slogans on bus stops, petrol pumps and hoardings across the city about doing good by the environment—“Pro-Planet People for Pro-Planet Progress.” In the meantime, people made homeless, after their living places were bulldozed in March—according to activists and several residents a beautification drive for G20—were worst affected by the floods in July. Greenwashing, in which corporations project themselves as promoting products or practices beneficial to the environment, is a common enough public relations exercise. On World Environment Day this year, Vedanta, the mining conglomerate whose projects have faced immense opposition for climate-related hazards, (not least in Thoothukudi) pledged that it, together with the publisher Harper Collins, would launch a platform to plant ten thousand new saplings in schools. Greenwashing has become so regular a feature that international watchdogs have begun hauling up corporations for using vague phrases like “nature positive” or “environmentally friendly.”

Maya Palit is the books editor at The Caravan.

Keywords: Caravan Columns G20 Summit Narendra Modi