So, what does it take to make India shine so? A media blitz to gloss over the many shortcomings of the government, the Opposition tells you. Making people aware of the NDA government's achievements, pipes in the BJP. Whatever your take, the publicity overdrive in the name of India Shining is unprecedented in scale, intensity and cost. According to a ballpark figure put by a senior bureaucrat, India Shining and other ad campaigns unleashed by PSUs and individual ministries have already cost the exchequer over Rs 400 crore.
Where has all this government adspend gone? Some Rs 34 crore went for India Shining before the Election Commission directed the government to discontinue it because of the assembly polls due in November-December; Rs 250 crore went on the second phase of the campaign which started in December, with aggressive print and TV advertising; Rs 100 crore was earmarked last month by the PMO for ministries, departments and PSUs to highlight their achievements in the last five years; a total of Rs 16.75 crore is to be spent on a 70-page book on the Vajpayee government's achievements. Each copy will cost Rs 190 and about 8.5 lakh copies are to be printed; finally, some Rs 50 crore is to be spent on about 50 booklets being printed in Hindi and in 13 regional languages listed in the Eighth Schedule, with a print run of 50,000 each.
Brainstorming for the blitz started some months after the 2003 budget. According to sources, a high-level meeting of top-rung BJP leaders in October decided to go for it to celebrate Vajpayee's completion of five years in office as prime minister.
But if the government has been thrusting its propaganda on the people, it's not so eager to talk about the campaign, managed by a task force headed by former journalist Sudheendra Kulkarni, currently OSD in the PMO. An ad agency hired by the government is now preparing the audio-visual campaigns for the elections. Among other things planned are films on Vajpayee and deputy PM L.K. Advani.
The BJP's defence is that it is not a party campaign. "It is a national advertisement, not a party ad," says spokesperson Prakash Javadekar. "It is (meant) to create confidence in the individual as a stakeholder in national development." Sure, says Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi. He calls it a "rapacious misuse of government largesse for political and partisan purposes" that's creating "a completely uneven playing field before the elections". "Even the Planning Commission, supposedly autonomous, has been converted into an ad agency of the government," he says. He reveals that an additional Rs 250 crore has been earmarked for the India on the Move campaign that's to replace India Shining.
Privately, BJP insiders admit the ad campaign has had a twofold advantage. It has helped cement a feelgood wave across all public spaces. Two, it has been a tool to woo the media. Regional papers were deliberately given a fair share of the advertising precisely for this purpose. For, once a paper gets ad revenue, it begins looking more favourably at the government that is buying up space in it.
The Opposition, of course, labels it blatant opportunism. Notes Singhvi: "If all this advertising can't be done after the model code of conduct comes into force, should it be done just before the code, but after deciding to dissolve the Parliament? This is like knowing that a law will come into force next week prohibiting theft and rape and using this as an invitation to commit all the thefts and rapes before that."
All this is water off the BJP's back. Till the time the EC brings its hammer down again, it will let India shine some more through ads in the media.
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