Along with the visits, there has been a massive number of full and half-page advertisements that have appeared in Indian newspapers this weekend proclaiming the great successes of various ministers and their departments.
It might be reasonable to assume that modern India would have outgrown this third-world sort of behaviour, where politicians get kicks by inaugurating projects and seeing their photos in newspaper advertisements, but I suppose it is all part of general election politics.
Advertisements in this weekend’s newspapers have lauded the following visits by politicians:
– Sonia Gandhi, Haryana water supply project and women’s medical college,
– Pranab Mukherjee, foreign (and acting finance) minister, Tamil Nadu power project,
– Kapil Sibal, science and technology minister, National Science Day (yesterday),
– Lalu Prasad Yadav, railways minister, railway line on a Maharashtra pilgrim route,
– Praful Patel, foundation stone and a new building at Sikkim and Assam airports,
– Sharad Pawar, agricultural minister, food park in Pune,
– Oscar Fernandez, labour minister, a medical college in Kerala,
– Prem Chand Gupta, corporate affairs minister, Corporate Bhavan in Jaipur,
– Jaipal Reddy, urban development minister, a statue in Delhi
– Sheila Dixit, Delhi chief minister, a flyover in Delhi
– Even India’s President Pratibha Devisingh Patil – a health care workshop in Delhi
The government’s most public relations-conscious politician, aviation minister Praful Patel, has scored highest on visits, launching modernisation projects and inaugurating airport buildings at ten cites since February 20, according to a Mail Today article yesterday (click here and go to page 14) headlined “Pre-poll sop spree”. I wonder how many of the projects where work has not yet started were included in a mind-boggling series of architects’ drawings and pictures of shiny new buildings, with which he mesmerised journalists at a press conference about four years ago.
Challenging him for effort, Ram Vilas Paswan, minister for chemicals, fertilisers and steel, laid foundation stones and launched ten projects including chemists’ shops.
The most unlikely of the advertisements was one from the Ministry of Corporate Affairs headlined “Building People” with a picture of two jockeys racing horses. Patel’s Aviation Ministry boasted that charter airlines catered for people where “every minute counts”, neatly forgetting that his term at the ministry is ending with a plethora of loss-making airlines, inadequate ground support, and regular flight delays of an hour or more.
Now the Hindustan Times this morning, under a headline, “Last Minute Largesse” says that the government will announce, before the election dates are proclaimed, the creation of six new Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) and a $2bn integrated child development scheme. The newspaper reported that as many as 60 proposals are on the cabinet’s agenda.
Not to be outdone, Mayawati, the prime ministerially-ambitious chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, has her own page advertisements proclaiming achievements in UP, showing she knows how Delhi works even before she arrives.
I have tried to find out the point of all the government’s advertisements which, I discovered, are placed by the Information Ministry’s Department of Audio Visual Publicity. Signficantly the Ministry announced two days ago that it is raising the advertisement rates it pays, and waiving its 15% agency commission, till June 30
Surely, Sonia Gandhi cannot be pleased to see her picture used on such blatant wastes of money. And surely they are not supposed to win votes because they often reveal what the government has failed to do in the past five years!
Newspaper readers I have met over the weekend are laughing rather than taking the messages seriously.
So maybe the main aim is simply to reward loyal newspapers by boosting their advertising incomes – and to keep them loyal with the increased rates and reduced commissions that apply till the election is over.
Unsurprisingly, the Times of India and Economic Times get most advertisements – there are 12 in the Times today, some repeating ones that appeared in the paper yesterday.
The most intriguing story of the weekend was on the rediff.com website. It suggested that Navin Chawla, one of three Election Commissioners who is widely accused of favouring Congress (which he denies), suddenly took two days’ leave last week. His aim, the report suggested, was to delay the three-man commission announcing the poll date and bringing down the curtains on all the travelling and advertisements. It’s probably not true but, in modern India, is entirely believable.
Sadly governments do not seem to like carrying out projects launched by their predecessors. That has been only too clear since 2004 with the current government’s appalling record on the Golden Quadrilateral and other national highways projects that were started and built so successfully by the previous government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. I wonder what will happen to those in the lists above if Congress does not get back!