Last evening was an evening of heavy hearts, moist eyes and lumps in the throat in Mumbai. 26/11. The tenth anniversary of the 2008 Mumbai attacks when at least 174 people died, including nine attackers, and over 300 were left wounded in a blood bath that lasted 96 hours, and brought India’s commercial capital to its knees. At an event at the Gateway of India last night, sponsored by Facebook and The Indian Express, Mumbai paid homage to its martyrs, and thanked God for its survivors.
But why would Campaign want to cover such a sad event? With neither a commercial angle, nor any advertising or marketing involvement. Therein lies the essence of my blog today: to move a vote of thanks, express my gratitude, to all the brands that stepped up to fund and support the memorial event. First a disclaimer: I had personally or professionally nothing to do with the event. I don’t represent either the organisers, or the sponsors. I was there at the event last evening, with my family, just as citizen Goyal, no more, no less.
The need, in fact necessity, for this (kind of special edition) blog got ignited while I was at the event venue. I ran into an old client, an ex-CEO of a large FMCG company, who was chatting with a well-known banker. The conversation was in somewhat hushed tones, and went something like this … “Hey! Why do you think Facebook is getting involved with this kind of event? I mean isn’t it kind of sensitive?”. “Yup, sensitive and political. Indian Express, I can understand, but Facebook? Why do they want to get involved with such tricky stuff?”
My ears started to burn. This conversation couldn’t be for real. Here were two captains of corporate India discussing, debating, most importantly denouncing sponsorship support, and association with, an event celebrating the safety and unity of the country, and solidarity amongst its citizens.
I weaned myself away from the conversation and messaged Prasad Sangameshwaran, managing editor of Campaign India, to request he give me space on the morrow for a piece on 26/11. Prasad asked why. I explained why. He immediately sent me back a short and simple, “Sure”.
Why may I ask is support to a 26/11 event organised with full blessings of government authorities a tricky affair? Sensitive? Political? Bad to be involved with? As the ex-CEO put it later in the conversation, “Why mess?”. And the banker added, “Too many agendas. Safer and better to keep your distance, boss.”
My view is exactly the opposite. Corporates supporting the kind of event last evening at the Gateway are deserving of our gratitude and our heart-felt thanks, for sustaining and encouraging the spirit of India; they deserve to be lauded and praised by civil society for creating a public platform where the father of 26/11 hero Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan of the NSG could step-up and openly speak his mind; where Constable Arun Jadhav could recount the horrific details of the ambush that killed senior police officers Hemant Karkare, Vijay Salaskar and Ashok Kamte that night as they fought to defend the country against terrorists who could have taken many more lives; where Javed Akhtar and Amitabh Bachchan stood up and spoke from the heart, and where everyone in the audience resonated the pain their words expressed; where the holy chantings of Harshdeep Kaur in Punjabi merged with Ekla Chalo Re in Bangla by Kaushiki Chakrabarty and the spirited Ae Watan rendition from Raazi by Shivam Mahadevan.
It was an all-encompassing evening that recounted the gore of a decade ago, but also held out hope for a better India, a secure India, a safe India, a united India, a happier India, a prosperous India : an India that is required by every corporate, every brand to do business in, and grow. It is nice to have corporate sponsors for city marathons, and such like other ‘uplifting’ events, but the 26/11 event was much much deeper : it wasn’t just about a fitter India, it was about the country’s spirit and its soul.
Which is why Facebook needed not to be afraid of any sensitivity or politics or tricky stuff by associating with the event. Facebook is part of almost every Indian home today. It is intrinsic to the lives of most of India’s citizens. So, Facebook belongs where India belongs. And India was there last night at the Gateway : strong, secular, proud, patriotic and progressive. In fact, the other sponsors besides The Indian Express, were Maruti Suzuki, Viacom, Taj Hotels, LIC, Centrum, Air India, ABP, Republic, Vodafone, Prime Focus, Mumbai Port Trust and the Mumbai Police. The Mumbai Port Trust chairman, Sanjay Bhatia, and the Mumbai Police Commissioner, Subodh K Jaiswal were both present, with wives, at the function. So were the Chief Minister Devendra Phadnavis and Union Minister Piyush Goyal.
In fact, Viacom CEO Sudhanshu Vats made a very emotional speech about how he had been at the Taj Mumbai till just a few minutes before the attacks ten years ago, and narrowly missed a brush with death. All in all it was an evening full of gravitas. And gratitude.
For those in corporate India afraid to get ‘involved’ with the nation, its citizens and its highs and lows, I would unequivocally want to say that please don’t do any ‘causevertising’; don’t tell stories about societal issues in long digital narratives and say you care; don’t pay lip service to a whole lot of irrelevant and unnecessary ‘issues’. Put your money on ‘Brand’ India. Think of the 26/11 event as vital ‘internal communication’ to its citizens. Think of it as ‘team-building’ at a national level. Think of it as supporting the ‘brand essence’ of India.
Once again, kudos to Facebook. Thanks and congratulations to the The Indian Express. And to all others who stood up for India, stood up for Mumbai. Stood by India, stood by Mumbai. Last night was a night to remember. You made it possible. You did a good job by every Indian, every Mumbaikar.
To the ex-CEO and to the well-known banker all I have to say is, “Shame on you!”. Jai Hind!
Dr. Sandeep Goyal writes with blunt candidness, especially on issues that touch his heart.