To celebrate FCB India’s Spikes Asia Grand Prix win for Political Shakti and the ‘Nominate Me Selfie’, LBB’s Natasha Patel speaks to FCB India’s Swati Bhattacharya and Shakti’s co-founder Tara Krishnaswamy
Earlier this March, FCB India picked up a Grand Prix at Spikes Asia 2022 for the ‘Nominate Me Selfie’, a campaign the agency created for activist group Political Shakti and The Times of India to highlight the country’s lack of women representatives in parliament. The campaign began in the Indian state of Bihar during the 2020 Bihar elections – a state which has ‘the worst gender parity in the country’.
By working with 140 grassroots organisations, the team was able to get the message out to 45,000 villages and encourage women to take a selfie of themselves along with a ‘resume’ of her skills which were then sent on to the country’s political – and male – leaders forcing them to confront the issue of the lack of gender equality in parliament.
Shakti’s co-founder Tara Krishnaswamy believed that the local Bihar elections posed a “unique challenge”, with FBC India’s creative chairperson Swati Bhattacharya explaining: “When we talk about progress or gender parity, Bihar would be right at the bottom. I think the creative idea of ‘how do we go from invisibility to visibility’ is at the front of the creative idea that came from the Bihar election.”
The elections in question happened during the covid-19 pandemic, which again posed another challenge and meant that Shakti were forced to find new ways to amplify the voices it wanted to be heard. Luckily for them, Swati was stuck at home and when she and Tara first met it seemed the perfect, natural fit for the duo to combine their expertise to create ‘The Selfless Selfie’. Tara explains: “It's called selfless because the selfie is such a quintessentially sort of selfish and narcissistic tool to portray oneself to the rest of the world.”
At the time of the campaign’s inception, Bihar-born actor Sushant Singh Rajput committed suicide, thus thrusting Bihar into headlines once more. Swati recalls an insurgence of politicians who wanted to “avenge the suicide,” yet “if the Bihar elections were in the foreground of people's brain, it should have been for all the issues of Bihar.”
Swati adds: “Women's issues are not just uterine issues. Women's issues are about fuel or firewood, crime, jobs, prices of vegetables. It's about education, schools and colleges, safety. Nobody wants to talk about all this.”
Tara explains further what this meant for the organisation she runs alongside her day job: “It's extraordinary the amount of visibility that activists normally don't get deep into. Shakti's campaigns for women's representation takes it to political parties to persuade them to field more female candidates and then we work with existing female elected representatives at the grassroots level to get their voices to amplify some of these demands.”
Political Shakti is an organisation that pays no salaries and has no funding. Each person who volunteers there does so freely and of their own will. Swati recalls getting a call from Spikes when the campaign was entered and being asked what she meant when she said the campaign had no budget. For Tara, it’s a real passion project to put aside her day job of being a technologist and campaign for change via Shakti. She explains: “We don't have sufficient women's voices being heard in the shaping of the destinies of their own countries where democracies exist, and that is seldom the focus of the election. So, what is the meaning of democracy without half the population at the table?”
The pair working together on the pro-bono campaign meant that they learnt a lot from each other. Swati became a part of the Shakti team by “co-volunteering” and Tara recalls feeling like a storyteller via working with FCB. She recalls: “Swati is so beautiful at condensing the process of working with her and brainstorming the story and how that becomes a script that says ‘How do you have women in every home and the homes are not in the names of the women?’ She could come up with ways of writing this in about a minute, that I couldn't have imagined before.”
It's been two years since the Nominate Me Selfie began and while Tara recalls “if you lined up all the women who have been elected in India’s national parliament, you couldn’t fill a single parliament house”, if people can wake up the realisation that half of the population in India aren’t represented, this is a “modicum of change” that she can live with.
The Spikes Asia win was the fourth consecutive for FCB India – and Swati. She reflects on her career with gratitude and “a little philosophy”. She explains: “There is a place for storytelling to do a kind of activism, which is a little romantic activism. I was looking at my work the other day and the thing that made me proud is, I don't have villains. At every given point of time, your work should give an opportunity for people to join, only then do I see some kind of the future.”