UPA ads recall 'India shining'

BY MELWYN PINTO| IN Media Practice | 01/06/2013
The UPA government's Bharat Nirman ad campaign bears an uncanny resemblance to the NDA's 'India Shining'.
MELWYN PINTO warns that this too may boomerang, as they peddle half-truths.

Is the UPA government, after being battered badly by a series of scams, trying desperately for an ‘image makeover’ through its Bharat Nirman campaign? It seems so, though Minister of Information and Broadcasting Manish Tewari would have us believe otherwise. According to him, the campaign is an attempt to tell us the ‘India story’ that has been ‘understated’. All the same, comparisons with the ‘India Shining’ campaign of the NDA in 2004 are bound to happen. But Tewari vociferously rejects such comparisons. In an interview given to a private TV channel he said that the ‘India Shining’ campaign was ‘hype and hoopla’, it was ‘extrapolated’; whereas the ‘Bharat Nirman’ campaign is a ‘story based on facts’ to give information to the common man about the ‘transformation that has taken place in the last nine years’.

However, isn’t there a danger of this campaign being seen as a remote preparation for the upcoming general elections? ‘No,’ says the Minister. His argument is that the general elections are still a year away, unlike the India Shining campaign which came up on the ‘eve of the election’.

Well, Tewari has the uncanny knack of wriggling out of any difficult situation to defend his party. But a closer look at some of the ads that are being broadcast these days would reveal that the campaign is merely one side of the ‘India story’. The campaign may be based on facts but many of these facts, if not qualified, can mislead gullible people.

Take, for example, the ‘Priya Kumar Story’ in a 90-second ad. Here is a girl who goes on to become a successful entrepreneur, thanks to the many schemes of the UPA government. She is able to attend school and study, thanks to the government’s mid-day meal scheme that, according to the ad, feeds ‘10 crore children’. Then, as happens in most poor families, she is discouraged from pursuing higher studies. Just then, another government scheme, this time a financial one, helps her get a scholarship. The story does not stop there. She aims for one of the ‘7 IIMs and 8 IITs’ that the government has started. From there, it is a ‘cakewalk’ to start her own enterprise ‘Priya Power’.

For the record, let us assume the story to be true. However, should the government be taking the entire credit for Priya Kumar’s success? What about the hardships and sacrifices Priya and her parents would have put in?

And then there is an ad glorifying the Metro rail project in Delhi and similar upcoming projects in Bangalore and Hyderabad; or the other ad singing paeans of the ‘revolutionary’ cellphone penetration that has happened in the last nine years. Fair enough. However, it is also true that the government has not really prioritised issues. Both the central as well the state governments have given relatively far too much importance to urban development over rural development, although the latter affects close to 70 per cent of the population. As a result, over the years, large-scale internal migration is taking place in India which is as high as over 300 million people or 25 per cent of the population. (http://www.unicef.org/india/1_Overview_(03-12-2012).pdf). The fallout of this is cities getting crowded and the proliferation of slums.

Statistics as ‘facts’

Quite a lot of statistics are trotted out in the ads. Some of these so-called achievements though they look big, give only the partial truth. The ‘Priya Kumar story’ ad, for example, claims that the government has ‘lit up 2 crore BPL households’ under the Rajiv Gandhi Rural Electrification Scheme. This is actually an underachievement for the government in a country that is home to over 10 crore BPL households.

The story of cellphone penetration also seems quite a fascinating one. According to an ad in the campaign, rural teledensity today has risen to 40 per cent with as many as 86.5 crore mobile phone connections and the cellphone rates being one of the cheapest in the world. However, it is also true that the IT sector as a whole has not really penetrated to the rural areas. The reason is obvious: There is a serious lack of infrastructure development in the rural sector. While on the one hand the government takes pride in making great progress in the IT sector, the benefits have been deprived to large parts of the country. Computer literacy in India, especially in the rural areas, is still among the lowest in the world. According to the 2011 census, only 9.4 per cent of Indian households own a computer. The percentage of houses with internet connectivity is as low as 3.1 per cent. While the prices of computers and broadband have been falling steadily, there has not been a proportionate rise in computer literacy. And of course, computers become useless if there is no power to operate them.

The government must understand that the real ‘Bharat Nirman’ will happen not just through Metro rail, cellphone connectivity and so on, but through basic infrastructure such as roads, power and water supply. When it comes to elections, these are the uppermost issues for the common man. The NDA learnt it the hard way in 2004. Similarly, the rosy picture the UPA is trying to portray might just boomerang!

However, as Tewari reiterates, it is unfair to compare India Shining (Bharat Uday) with Bharat Nirman. There is some truth in it. While the India Shining campaign largely targeted the urban middle class, Bharat Nirman has ordinary folks hailing the India story. The campaign managers have been very careful not to hype the markets, the economic growth, FDI, etc., like the India Shining campaign did. Greater focus has been given to tell the ‘success story’ of flagship programmes like MGNREGA, RTI, mid-day meal scheme, minority scholarships, etc. Added to all this, of course, is a self-imposed caveat: ‘We've come a long way, we have a long way to go!’

Will the campaign work for the UPA to salvage its lost pride and come back to power in the next general elections? Manish Tewari and his ilk are very confident it will. Tewari is of the opinion that while ‘India Shining’ bombed, the ‘India Story would fly’. However, such campaigns rarely work these days, unless they are backed by grassroot-level commitment to development works. The common man knows too well that an advertisement of this kind, after all, is a mere publicity strategy to cajole the voter. The same mass media in which this campaign is being run have also given wide coverage to the series of scams that hit the UPA in the last four years. So, the ‘Bharat Nirman’ campaign might do very little to convince the voter that the UPA might need a second (in fact, third!) chance, unless in this last year serious attempts are made to overhaul governance. 

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