Opinion: That 'odd-even' rule - a Delhi PR conundrum

Nikhil Khanna, managing director of Avian Media, examines Delhi's hastily arranged plan to tackle pollution by only allowing certain cars to drive on certain days, and how the PR strategy to sell it is faring

Nikhil Khanna

Delhi is the world’s most polluted city. Period.

When the World Health Organization (WHO) made this declaration, there were no surprises. Out of a total of 1,600 cities polled across the globe, Delhi has the dubious distinction of being right at the top. The damage to the health of its citizens is incalculable.

There are several reasons for this appalling situation. A choking swirl of 9.5 million vehicles hit the roads of Delhi every morning; couple that with road dust, belching industry and the phenomena of nearly 500 million tonnes of crop residue burnt during the winter months, and the city is reduced to a Dickensian, dystopian sprawl.

Delhi could well be what Ridley Scott had in mind when he made Blade Runner.

Delhi’s normally feisty but currently beleaguered chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, elected last year in a sweeping majority, has promised to clean up the air. Aware of the huge mandate given to him and the expectations, he has launched an extraordinary communications drive to seize the public’s imagination.

Right at the top is – not the most original of ideas but one Delhi vitally needs – allowing cars with odd or even number plates to travel on alternate days.

Mr Kejriwal has put out radio spots on several stations appealing that the public cooperate. In his radio broadcasts, all agree that he comes across as sincere, accommodating and that one quality Indians admire most, homespun.

He has insisted that the roll-out will be for only 15 days starting from 1 January, and that all stakeholders’ opinions will be considered. In fact, his entire communication, be it radio spots, interviews or public appearances, have been resolutely focused and strategic.

Furthermore, Mr Kejriwal, a normally combative, controversial individual, has delivered another masterstroke; single women drivers, he says, will be allowed to drive on all days regardless of even or odd number plates. This empowering act, in a manner, has thrilled female drivers.

Could Mr Kejriwal have made his communication sharper? Perhaps. He could have had a more thought through roll-out instead of the haphazard one he has had so far.

His handlers could have instituted debates on how Beijing - another notoriously polluted city - handled the problem. He could have engaged a wider community of corporates, NGO’s and civil society to make the message crisper.

But given the lack of time, Mr Kejriwal, to use a phrase, went for it. In that, so far he appears to have won the PR battle.

Will this PR victory continue its successful march? It remains to be seen what tidings the New Year rings in for the chief minister.

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