Anti-Corruption Movement Strategies

I was watching the live telecast of Baba Ramdev’s anti-corruption rally at Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi. I was struck by the different strategies adopted by Baba Ramdev and Anna Hazare in their respective campaigns against the demon of corruption.

I am going to look at the two campaigns from the lens of the principles of marketing strategy, competition, messaging, brand, etc., so this is not a political commentary.

1. Competition

Hazare defined the enemy as corruption, a concept. This was helpful to strike a chord with the masses, as there is no one who would condone corruption, and it seemed a tipping point had been reached with the myriad of scams being exposed.

Baba Ramdev has defined the competition very crisply – the Congress Party. His effort is an agitation against the UPA coalition Government, led by the Congress.

2. Alliances

As a result of Hazare’s broad definition of the competition, one wonders whether many entities felt he was competing against them. All the political parties, while paying lip service to how they also oppose corruption, held back whole-hearted support to the movement, perhaps also being unsure of whether the movement was going to become political at some point. Team Hazare also did not seem to be successful in enlisting support from the parties, or perhaps they did not want to be seen aligning with any party.

Ramdev has successfully enabled alliances with all the political parties, all of whom have thrown their weight completely behind him, because everyone can identify the enemy very clearly. Moreover, they know it’s not them, at least for now. They are also assured that this agitation is apolitical.

3. Messaging

One can definitely say that Hazare’s movement sparked fervour amongst people. They showed up in strong numbers at the rallies, fasting along with Hazare, even wearing “I AM ANNA” Gandhi-topis (it perplexes me why the caps are called as such even though Mahatma Gandhi never wore one, but that’s a digression). However this romance with the populace had its pros and cons. While it showed that people could rally behind a cause once they were enrolled, it also showed that they could be fatigued and tired out, the longer the fight could be drawn out. As a result, Hazare’s fast in Mumbai against version 3.0 of Lokpall Bill at the end of 2011 failed to draw crowds.

I AM ANNA” emerged as the defining slogan of the Hazare campaign. While this worked for some period of time, once people took off the caps, one wonders if they went back to being themselves.

There were other messages that came out of Team Anna, one like:

After Lokpal, we will also have to fight for farmers’ rights, bring a law that ensures permission of gram sabhas before land acquisition.” (source:

Did this tell people that this was going to be an unending fight and did that cause people to tire out? Did the urban population not feel as connected to farmer’s rights, as they did to corruption?

Ramdev’s campaign has a very focused message: “Congress hatao, Desh bachao” (Remove the Congress, Save the Country)

While Hazare pinned the hopes of his campaign (and that of people) to an uncompromising stand on the Lokpal Bill, Ramdev is not bothered about governance or electoral reform. His mission is clear. Hold the Government accountable for black money in overseas bank accounts and bring it back, for the 2G scam, etc.

Ramdev’s movement has created a platform for all the political parties to share, and speak to the people about all the ills faced by the nation on the UPA Government’s watch (rising inflation, devaluation of the currency, etc.)

I am not sure what exactly all this means in terms of outcomes, but Ramdev’s march to the Parliament, with supporters carrying the Indian tricolour, shouting “Congress hatao…“, courting peaceful arrest, surely strokes the imagination of similar protests against the British Raj.

Ramdev’s message comes across as very crisp.

4. Brand

Even with Hazare’s record of public service and as a freedom-fighter, one wonders how much Hazare was known outside Maharashtra, and even to the urban populace within Maharashtra.

This actually helped his image as that of a senior citizen common man, a freedom fighter, who had had enough, and people took a stand for him, in large numbers.

Ramdev, on the other hand, is very well known across India as a Yoga guru. He has had tremendous following through his outreach of Yoga and healthy living through television channels and live events. However, Ramdev is not necessarily relying on public support to generate large numbers. The political parties aligning with him are presumably lending him their supporters.

Hazare was also undone by the visibility his team members (Kiran Bedi, Kejriwal) sought in the process, whereas, Baba Ramdev is the face and voice of his campaign.

It appears that the Government is in for a tougher battle with this movement than with Hazare’s, even though the general population is not as passionately involved, but what do I know of politics.

Just a few thoughts from a different angle, that’s all.

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