Mahagatbandhan is very old school. The new India apparently requires INDIA — Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance. Announcing the moniker for the Opposition party alliance Mamata Banerjee told a press conference “NDA, can you challenge INDIA? BJP, can you challenge INDIA?”
Once acronyms were a way to remember something. I have memories of snickering in arithmetic class in Kolkata when we were introduced to the BODMAS rule of operators. After all, Bodmas in Bengali means scoundrel. Now, the acronym is the end goal. What it actually stands for is secondary as long as the acronym sounds catchy.
Narendra Modi of course is acronym-master, playing word games long before the age of Wordle. During his election campaigns, Modi turned acronym-making into a sort of sport (as opposed to SPORT which is Skill, Perseverance, Optimism, Reliance and Stamina). Give him a word, any word, VIKAS or ROAD, and he can turn it into an acronym. He even gave us acronym equations like IT+IT=IT though no one wants to remember INCH to MILES which was his 2014 coinage to describe the India-China relationship during happier days. But his best zingers were those that turned opponents into alphabet soup. SCAM: Samajwadi, Congress, Akhilesh, Mayawati. ABCD: Adarsh, Bofors, Coal, Damaad. Some caught on, some didn’t but the crowds loved it. His opponents fired back calling NDA Not Doing Anything setting off an acronym slugfest.
All of which begs the question — why do we love our acronyms so? Is there a secret acronym department in the government? Politicians want to turn everything into an acronym. They probably hope the crowd will leave the rally with a catchy acronym embedded in their minds, if nothing else.
But acronyms, especially when they are short and snappy, are also a symbol of aspirational modernity. They are a reminder that we have come a long way from those dull old days when everything seemed to be stodgily named after Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru or Indira Gandhi. That age gave way to a time of clunky acronyms like MGNREGA and NFFWP which no one could pronounce and would make our eyes glaze over. Now we have realized that when acronyms, like data, are reverse-engineered, they can be much punchier. They sound like they have been made up by smart young MBAs with Powerpoint presentations and we love that.
Of course, reverse-engineering acronyms wasn’t something Indian spin doctors discovered. After the 9/11 attacks when the US wanted to pass a law that amped up its surveillance and anti-terrorism capabilities, it needed to shield it against accusations of infringement on constitutional rights of privacy. So, they cloaked it in patriotism calling it the USA PATRIOT Act aka Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism. One imagines someone broke out a bottle of champagne once the last word fell into place there. After all, which politician could oppose the USA PATRIOT? It worked. The Senate approved it 98-1; Senator Russ Feingold being the solitary hold-out.
But despite the landslide victory of the USA-PATRIOT Act, the US did not embrace its reverse-engineering acronyms with as much gusto as India.
India is enthralled with acronyms perhaps because we are always texting on the mobile phone where speed and economy are of the essence. Or it might be India’s fascination with business success. Business-speak bristles with acronyms probably as a way to bamboozle those who didn’t go to business school. Either way these peppy acronyms feed into our image of ourselves as young and business-minded, briskly on the move with no time (and no extra words) to waste.
It’s no surprise that acronyms have become the newest form of political flattery as well. When the BJP celebrated three years in office, Venkaiah Naidu said MODI stood for Maker/Modifier of Developed/Developing India. India was still kosher then. Now post the newly minted INDIA alliance, BJP leader and Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has tweeted that the word India is a colonial vestige (like the Indian National Congress) while the BJP has Bharatiya in its very name.
However, the Opposition seems thrilled that it’s managed to agree on something. Mamata Banerjee said that she told other leaders, “We must adopt (INDIA) before the BJP tries to grab a name like this.” The Prime Minister promptly said NDA aka the National Democratic Alliance also stands for New India, Developed nation, Aspirations of people. Not the most elegant counter-acronym but one is confident that the ruling party’s acronym-makers are burning the midnight oil trying to reverse engineer BHARAT so that it can be an INDIA vs BHARAT match-up in 2024.
That would be not just acrimonious but also acronym-ious.
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