By Praveen Patil on June 6, 2013
As widows received pensions and school children got their midday meals, the Government was seen to be wiping the tears of the poor. It was a video with the message “Congress sarkar ka yeh uphaar, paanch varshon ka sthir sarkaar” – a video directed by internationally acclaimed film maker Mani Ratnam. The year was 1995 and the hugely corrupt Congress Government, led by the singularly uncharismatic PV Narasimha Rao was heading for the General Election.
There were more than 50 different videos being played on the state channel Doordarshan and also on half a dozen private satellite/cable channels, all of them exhorting the voters to give another chance to the Congress. Liberal doses of ‘Nehru-Gandhi sacrifice’ were also used as the audio-visual appeal to the voters, in order to overcome the limited appeal of Prime Minister Rao.
May 2013, Piccadilly Cinemas, a multiplex in Manali: The latest Bollywood flick was playing in town and an audience comprising people from various parts of India which had travelled to this hill station in the hot summer of 2013 was in attendance. As the first set of “Bharat Nirman” ads beamed out, the audience was still settling down. By the time the second set of ads began, people started getting a bit agitated and uneasy. One could sense the charged atmosphere as the advertisement on screen started listing all the ‘achievements’ of the Government of India. Then there was booing by a section of the audience as the third set of Congress advertisements was unleashed. Finally, somebody in the audience cried out loud, “Ho raha Bharat Barbaad” to uproarious laughter from the entire theatre.
2013 is a déjà vu year for the Congress. It is mired in humungous corruption charges, has a hugely unpopular Prime Minister with an equally lacklustre Cabinet and a buoyant Opposition with a popular leader emerging as the real non-Congress challenger since independence. What is more, like 1996, there is a real chance of a Third Front Government looming on the horizon.
Despite the multiple hundred crore rupee campaign by the Congress in 1996, the party ended up losing a whopping 92 seats, ending up with a tally of 140 Lok Sabha seats – their worst performance in history till then.
The lessons from 1996 are very clear for the Congress – in politics, governance must take precedence over public relations. Unfortunately for the Congress and fortunately for India, the Nehru-Gandhis seem to be living in a make-believe-world of self-aggrandised denial. Today, the funniest jokes in middle-class urban households are the Bharat Nirman ads. Every new ad will cost the Congress at least half a dozen Lok Sabha seats. The joke will be on the Congress, come election day.
Development mantra is not a TV ad, it’s a way of life
Last December, I was in Ahmedabad during the election season and had stayed at a small hotel in Relief Road in order to remain in touch with the day-to-day realities of life (especially of the Muslims). On a particular Sunday afternoon, there was no power in the afternoon at the hotel (and also the whole locality). On enquiring about any power backup options, I got curious looks from the lobby manager who explained to me that the power cut was pre-announced and would be restored in an hour. “Besides, this is only the second time this year that we have had any power cut,” he further clarified and went on to add, “Sir, UPS and generator manufacturers are out of business in Gujarat, we never even think of power backups.”
It is a simple story, but tells us how 24/7 power is a way of life for the Gujaratis and not just part of some fantasy in ‘Gujarat Nirman’ advertisements. You don’t have to advertise your achievements, for good governance alters people’s lives significantly, so much so that it becomes a way of life.
What Congress is trying desperately to do is cover up for all its omissions and commissions of the past decade by a blitzkrieg in the audio-visual medium. The problem with the Congress is that it has too many zeroes in the report card, both in terms of achievements and in terms of corruption scams.
A decade-long hubris cannot be washed by a humble 60-second capsule of fantasy. The debris of Congress non-governance is large enough to gobble up the entire India growth story and the price that ordinary Indians have paid for onions and potatoes is far too higher to cover up under the aegis of Bharat Nirman. The only ones who stand to benefit out of this exercise are the advertisement marketing companies and the media outlets.
Paid news in a new avatar
Some 18 years ago, in 1995, when the PV Narsimha-led Congress unleashed its TV advertisement campaign, the only major TV channel was the terrestrial Doordarshan owned by the Central Government. Today, there are hundreds of private TV channels, yet the ruling Congress-led UPA is able to repeat what it was able to do in the 1990s. The more things have changed, the more they have remained the same.
India’s media industry is a veritable crime scene of crony capitalism. If any area of Indian industry needs to be liberated from corrupt malpractice, then Indian news media would be top of the list. There has been talk of “paid news” for almost a decade now, but nothing has been done about it. In fact, the latest Bharat Nirman blitzkrieg is an open challenge to media’s neutrality, for the central government is spending 100s of Crores of tax payer rupees on these advertisements and the news-media organizations are direct beneficiaries of this Congress largesse. How can any of these news organizations be expected to remain neutral in their reportage and also question the UPA government on its omissions and commissions?
Thus, for the last few weeks, all the media outrage over coal scam has dissipated and cricket shenanigans have replaced the headlines. Bad news related to Congress was in any case handicapped in a Left-Liberal atmosphere, now it hardly travels into the TV studios. This week, media is even doing the Congress bidding of trying to dig up differences between BJP’s top leadership, instead of debating the humungous failure of UPA that has driven our GDP growth to the abysmal sub 5 per cent levels.
While Congress is busy spending billions of rupees to advertise their non-existing achievements, there is another factor that is playing out on its own. It is known as the TRP factor. Narendra Modi is still getting all the media limelight. For instance, his visit to Delhi today got almost daylong coverage by all TV channels and his statements against NCTC got beamed repeatedly. The huge victory of BJP in all the 6 seats of Gujarat (including 2 Lok Ssbha seats) that used to bge held by Congress earlier is a reminder to the Congress once again about the impending doom in 2014. Thus Narendra Modi’s electoral victories and good governance give him far greater media space than Congress – at zero cost.
Congress party is holding on to the Bharat Nirman straws in order to stay in power and is spending from an already empty treasury of the Central Government to sponsor news media lies. But everyone in India today knows deep within that no power can stop the march of one man from the western State of Gujarat to Dilli.