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Sequel to India Shining!
Will the UPA government’s Bharat Nirman ad rollout help deliver votes for the Congress or will it end up being a dud like the BJP’s India Shining campaign?

Nine years after the Bhartiya Janata Party unveiled the India Shining campaign in the run up to the 2004 Lok Sabha election, the Congress Party is out to repeat history and tempt fate by coming out with its own poll anthem singing the paeans of the UPA government’s achievements. Between now and February next year, no less than Rs.1.8 billion will be used to showcase the UPA government’s achievements through the “Bharat Nirman” advertising blitzkreig comprising TV spots, short films, print ads and newer technology like caller tunes and social media.

The February cutoff is significant, because that’s when the Election Commission’s model code of conduct comes into force if elections happen on schedule. However, the Congress party insists that the nationwide print and video campaign is just an information campaign celebrating nine years of the UPA regime and has nothing to do with next year’s Lok Sabha elections. But then, governments are known to notoriously walk the fine line between advertising and information campaign and the UPA government is no exception to this rule.

“Bharat Nirman is not a poll campaign. It tells the India story of how the country has evolved over nine years. It is not an attempt to extrapolate nor an attempt to inflate...,” said Manish Tewari, Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting, about the campaign. Going to great lengths to nip any comparisons between Bharat Nirman and the India Shining campaign, despite the obvious and uncanny resemblance between the two, Tewari says: “India Shining was hype, hoopla and spin. We are not claiming to have solved all the problems, ours is an understated campaign. We have put facts in public space, let’s leave it to people’s wisdom,” he says. The BJP, on its part, has termed the campaign as “completely outrageous” and has ridiculed the government for focusing more on an advertising blitzkrieg than on governance. “Instead of talking about achievements, the UPA government should first explain its failures on critical issues of inflation, growth slowdown and scams,” says BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman.

Aware of the fact that a hyperbolic campaign might fail to connect with the people, the Congress has taken care to avoid the errors of the NDA’s ‘India Shining’ debacle. The campaign’s pitch is carefully designed to remind the public that the past nine years haven’t just been a succession of UPA scams but one of steady progress and partial fulfillment. It highlights the aam aadmi programmes of UPA 2 by focusing on themes that address the middle-class aspirations. In this vein the campaign talks of higher education through opportunities like new IIMs and IITs, improved lifestyles in metros, urban infrastructure like flyovers and improved modes of transportation and access to mobile telephony. Protecting itself against the pitfall of attracting the ire of those who are yet to fully benefit from government programmes, the catch line of the campaign is modest: “Meelo hum aa gaye, meelo hame jaana hai” (we have travelled a long way, we have a long way to go). The message is clear: if people give the mandate to UPA again, then the unfinished task of development will be taken up in the next five years of the fresh UPA innings.

Obviously, for all its talk of welfare programmes and development, the Bharat Nirman campaign is a clever build-up to the general election next year though it has been artfully timed to coincide with the completion of nine years of the UPA government on May 22. But for the campaign to work and deliver on its intended poll promise, it will have to neutralize the negatives of the scams and corruption charges faced by the current government. The question is: Can the campaign turn people’s attention away from the steady stream of bad news that keep striking the UPA government with metronomic regularity? It looks like a tall order even if there’s a large budget to back it up.

By:- Sayan Ghosh

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