Lobbying as an art
Image building is no mean exercise. Styling people to succeed is Dilip Cherian’s forte. K.Pradeep tries to find out how he does it all
MAKEOVER MAN Dilip Cherian has made lobbying and image management a successful vocation
In his spotless white designer kurta-pyjama, salt-and-pepper bearded Dilip Cherian is a head-turner. This suave, persuasive raconteur can convert even a lamp post to his side. Widely hailed as India’s ‘Image Guru’ Dilip doles out strategy to corporates, lobbies hard to clinch an issue, assists politicians to upstage their rivals, while countless others from the wide spectrum of life line up before him for an image makeover.
He styled Lalu Prasad Yadav and Ritu Beri for fashion, helped corporates and political parties to acquire an image makeover virtually changing them into winning brands.
He has been handling state governments helping them to improve their image and communicating their objectives with the masses. Ask him to name some of the famous names he was associated with and Dilip politely says he cannot offer examples. “I can’t reveal names of my clients. It is like a psychiatrist who is restricted from revealing identities.”
As a pioneering practitioner of lobbying, or the system of managing power, this Malayali is in a league of his own. Unlike in countries like the United States where lobbying is a legitimate activity, in India it is still very grey. Though lobbying has moved from the ‘suitcase style’ to a ‘case law style,’ though it is quite open, loudly heard, and with an increasing number of lobbyists in the game, it is still to emerge as a science. Also, the whole activity is still beyond the common man.
“Essentially, in my view, defining lobbying to a layman is of no use. It is not about winning a popularity contest. Nor does it involve simple policy making, it is complex. Of course, the result of all this does affect the common man,” explains the Consulting Partner and co-founder of Perfect Relations, one of the country’s leading management teams.
Facts and figures
Lobbying is not all about conversational skills. “It is essentially about providing facts and figures to back a viewpoint. We provide information to which politicians, corporates or bureaucrats do not have access to. It is about opening up the underlying basis on which a particular decision could affect the people affected by the decision.”
Dilip points out to one of the activities his team undertook on behalf of a tribal group in Orissa. “This was an activity based on giving the tribal a voice.” They were to be shunted out of their settlements to facilitate mineral mining. “We lobbied successfully for their cause. Fortunately, the tribal group was led by a politician who understood lobbying. We were able to see that they were not simply resettled but resettled honourably.”
Lobbying requires relevant knowledge and experience in the corridors of power. Dilip’s job as an economist in the Bureau of Industrial Costs and later as business journalist stood him in good stead. “I was at the receiving end in the beginning. The learning process in this career begins with an understanding of the industry, patience to understand the system and most significantly the consumer aspect. At the next layer you need to understand the government, the reaction of the consumer and finally the international ramifications of the issue.”
The oft raised question is whether this is an honest effort. “Lobbying, as it is done today, in the open, is most effective. What is needed is to bring fresh light and allow openness in public debate and allow wider participation. It will eliminate of what would otherwise have been corrupt practices. I’m glad that there are so many professionals involved today.”
A compulsive party-hopper Dilip also loves to play host. Is this an extension of his profession which demands that he be a socialite? “No. I don’t mix these parties with my business. I love meeting and interacting with people.
Something that I inculcated from my mother and used to practise even at Sunday School. Look at it this way. At the Delhi parties I invariably meet the same people. If we were talking of Kochi perhaps these parties would have helped. Business sense would be to save time by staying away from them. At the parties I host I’m very nervous that the food would fall short. Once the logistics are taken care of I relax and enjoy every moment of it.”
Dilip successfully countered the NDA’s ‘India Shining’ campaign at the last Parliament elections with his simple but effective slogan ‘Congress Ki Haath Aam Aadmi Ke Saath.’ With elections round the corner is he gearing up for another round of campaign war? “The last time was quite easy. We were up against a tree that was almost broken. Well, this time, I think it is too early.”
Was he dropping a hint?
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