Why the ‘Make in India’ Lion stands out?

20 March 2015

Written by Arunesh Choubey

After mentioning the ‘Make in India’ initiative in his Independence Day speech in August 2014, Indian PM, Narendra Modi launched the ‘Make in India’ campaign in September, 2014. The initiative aims at encouraging companies in 25 sectors to make products in India. The ultimate aim is skill development, job creation, innovation and urbanisation which would tie into GDP growth. 

A lot has been written about what would work and what wouldn’t for the initiative but the choice of the ‘Lion’ stood out for me personally. The campaign overlooked India’s national animal, the ‘Royal Bengal Tiger’ and chose the Lion as the logo. Some attributed it to Modi’s love for the Gir Lions while others thought it to be a random choice. Irrespective of what made the Government and ad agency, Wieden+Kennedy to go for the Lion, the choice certainly signals towards a fresh start for Indian manufacturing (I can imagine some thinking…’fresh start’, my foot!).

For a number of decades, India has been likened to an elephant: the mighty pachyderm, big in size but slow to move, unobvious of changes in its environment and trudging its own path slowly but surely. It is well understood that if the elephant is put in a situation where walking the trodden path was not good anymore, then it could walk fast (run) and that was the most it could do. The 1991 economic crisis did make the Indian elephant run and that did produce a long term change in the Indian economy. But then sluggish growth returned to haunt the economy and the situation was exacerbated by high level corruption and absence of leadership which was paralysed by the attitude of a government whose sole business was to survive in government rather than provide governance. For millions of Indians who had no patience for a slow gait towards decades of poverty reduction (not elimination), the situation was unbearable. Enter Modi and the tone had to be changed, the elephant was sidelined and the lion took over, while the tiger was not even entertained. The last bit was probably done consciously as ‘Make in India’ didn’t wish to be confused with the ‘Asian Tigers’.

In its backyard, India had always acted as an elephant, while the lion’s role was never taken and the tiger never given an opportunity. This was the missing piece in the geo-politics of South Asia and Indian Ocean in general. The gap had to be filled and what better than sending out a clear message of intent that the king had returned and the throne will be taken, if at all occupied. For the campaign, the lion was a clever extraction from the national emblem of India, which has 4 Asiatic Lions standing back to back. The national emblem was itself adapted from Emperor Asoka’s Lion Capital. Thus, the Lion was brought to the fore front. It clearly signifies power (ability to influence), courage (risk taking), pride (assertion of superiority) and confidence (feeling of self-reliance). The choice of lion also stated in no uncertain terms that irrespective of where India stood in its current form, manufacturing leadership in the mid to long term was its intent. Thus, it laid out the vision and acted as an open invitation to those willing to take the plunge. It is clear that those who jump onto the bandwagon and support the initiative, stand to benefit in the long term, if all goes well.

Several commentators were of the view that first India should have fixed tens of problems associated with its industry and economy and then gone on a prowl like the lion but they forgot that India perhaps doesn’t have the luxury to fix and then sell a product or service like ‘Make in India’. It had to ‘make the plunge’ and go all the way towards claiming leadership in ‘zero defect, zero effect’ global manufacturing. Time is running out; sixty odd years have been frittered away and neither the Indian people nor the world has any more time to wait. The lion had to arrive and build its ‘Pride’ and walk unabashedly toward its natural position, the throne. Whether it gets there or not will depend on governance, businesses and most importantly, the Indian voter.