Thursday, January 14, 2016

India's "Make in India" brand: The third wave of futurism...

The branding of India's new national innovation program "Make in India" is truly eye candy. Launched in late 2014, the initiative was developed by the Modi government to (re) build a national economy that not only suffered in the recent global economic crisis but also failed to live up to the almost boundless growth that China had experienced. This brand initiative wants to put India back in the game - to ensure that being the fast growing global economy is a lead they hold onto. It wants to point the world toward India. The imagery (re)evokes the kind of mass industrial prowess of which the US in particular seems no longer capable. The world economy is just set up differently now and the Taylorist style factory cities (to the left) which brought the US wealth and empire status are now more common to national economies that are thought of as "catching up". According to the Nation Brands Report (2015), India's brand value increased by 32% from USD 1.62 trillion in 2014 to USD 2.14 trillion in 2015. If you believe that indicator is meaningful, something might be coming from this initiative. But I find the meanings behind these images very curious. It makes me think the strategy is to downplay the cultural gulf that might exist when trying to do business in parts of the world not one's own. But it's more than that. 

The more inward looking campaign "Be Indian Buy Indian" aimed within India's boundary, hoping to connect an Indian consumer's decision-making to national sentiment. In contrast, these brand materials, not the first attempt to brand Indian industry, clearly point outward - the primary logo gives us a wild animal, an exotic, yet elegant view of India as a place where you can still find wild animals roaming, a place whose open space for investment is as wide as an open plain.  The lion - wise, regal and ferocious-  the king of the forest, is tamed and modernized by removing it from a natural landscape and imbued with bright primary colors or sleek patterned overlays depending upon need. Almost prowling forward, it declares "We are the future".

There is deep design touch that owes so much to a modernist faith in technology as a central feature. It is all about industrialization. While the Make in India brand covers 30 different sectors, it seems to be aiming for tech and heavy industry/capital goods and infrastructure - semi-conductors, space, shipping, military, although global pharma knows all too well that India also has major competency in drug development.

Yet the accompanying images connote a deep understanding of the economic past; the heavy machinery evokes (for me, as an American) what was once the American lifeblood. This is what technology once meant, depicted by Charles Sheeler in his Ford factory in Detroit. Sheeler's work defined a brave, new, modern world led by American ingenuity in the 20th century.
Charles Sheeler, American, 1883-1965; Ford Plant, River Rouge, Criss-Crossed Conveyors,
1927; gelatin silver print. Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, The Lane Collection
While the Make in India designs certainly borrow this energy, they are even more laden with associations of the mass industrial planning characteristic of the 1920's and 30's in Russia and in Germany. The, heavy, block-y font is pure Russian Futurism. The designs are so flat, abstract and retro, with bright, rich contrasting colors and laser cut angles - the precisionism of Sheeler, the monumentality of Soviet Constructivism or national socialism. The representations produced during that era were part of very rationalized social and economic systems in a complex package that grew wealth of nations, but were also foundational to the nationalist sentiments caught up in WWII and then the Cold War. In a nutshell: techno-fascism.

If you look quickly, the PPP could be mistaken for a CCCP...
Much as I appreciate the aesthetic itself  - I went through a Stenberg Brothers and a Rodchenko phase- what dominates this story is not people but machinery. These intend to make you feel awe in the face of the grand capacity for building. Wheels and moving parts, shiny, larger than life. Technology as the driver of human progress. Yet people disappear in and are dominated by such machinery and its relentless movement. As a social theory and a theory of management, Taylorism wanted people to bend to the will of the machine, to become part of it ("a cog in the machine") but even this idea quickly gave way to more anthropocentric understanding of the human-machine interface. Check out Chaplin's important critique of factory life in his film Modern Times (1936). Chaplin masterfully depicted how difficult were human's insertion into a steel clad environment.

No matter. Investors want to see the goods. But where are the people in this #MakeinIndia campaign? Was leaving them out intentional, a way to nullify the pesky issues concerning cultural differences, in work habits, institutional understanding, business practices? I suppose that is the point. The people that do exist in the story aren't the workers - the movers and shakers in the Indian economy- they are the global investors, those invited to participate in what is depicted as a new Industrial Revolution, happening in India. A call to arms, um - I mean to action.

And who are these anticipated investors?  To what region of the world are these images directed? Their feel might be too Socialist, too "red" for an American audience. Perhaps the underlying strategy is, " revive not only the Silk Road, but all the ancient trade routes crisscrossing the huge Eurasian land mass of the former Soviet Union in all directions."* In that context, the campaign makes much sense. After all, Narendra Modi and Putin just had their 16th bilateral summit where their love-fest was sanctified in sixteen different agreements that should reinforce partnership across security, trade, commerce, science and technology, defense, and energy - key "Make in India" sectors. They also aim to strengthen their defense partnership and encourage joint manufacturing of defense products in India. This will eventually pave the way for India becoming a central player in the global defense market. An important lesson from the Cold War: Centralized industrial planning is, as a political endeavor, as much an effort toward military build-up as it is an economic strategy. The "Make in India" imagery, in all its historical and artistic associations, is paying homage to a key partner and investor in Russia as much as it hopes to inspire as to the inevitability of India as the global center of production. But it will also have the capacity to defend this position with a new military strength, allied with Russia. Who only knows what that would eventually mean, in particular with talk of a new Cold War between the US and Russia*?

This montage-y image  could be mistaken for one produced 70 years ago, were it not for the
wind turbines. I love the hope provided by the color contrasts of sustainable technology against a bleak hospital seagreen background, smokestacks notably lack the smoke characteristic of dirty industrial development very common in China.
Charles Sheeler: he glorified, and beautified technology, making it a subject of awe, highlighting
its power. This, an elevator shaft gives us a true impression of height - and feels
like it must have inspired a Hitchcock film
Alexander Rodchenko, Suchov-Sendeturm (Shuchov transmission tower), 1929.
Gelatin silver print, 5 13/16 x 8 7/8 in. © Rodchenko & Stepanova Archive, DACS 2010
*Vinay Shukla for Russia Insider. "Here's Why India is Vitally Interested in Good Russia Relations Sep 18, 2015.

Sumit Kumar for The Diplomat. New Momentum for India-Russia Relations?: In a state visit, Indian PM Narendra Modi gives the relationship a boost. January 03, 2016.

Andrej Krickovic and Yuval Weber. Why a new Cold War with Russia is inevitable. Brookings Institute blog: September 30, 2015.

No comments:

Post a Comment