Will govt’s ad campaign cut ice with voters?

Gunratna Sontakke
Saturday, 9 June 2018

‘Saaf Niyat, Sahi Vikas’ not a guarantee for BJP’s victory in 2019

With the 2019 Lok Sabha and assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhatisgarh approaching, major political parties have upped their marketing strategies. The BJP has interestingly decided to not go ahead with the slogan that took the country by storm and swept them into power in 2014.

The promise of ‘Achhe Din’ has been replaced by - ‘Saaf Niyat, Sahi Vikas’ (clean intent, right development), a slogan that was released in a Tweet by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the fourth anniversary of the BJP-led Union Government (or Modi government as our media calls it fondly).

The party has probably realised that with demonetisation, Goods and Services Tax (GST), rising fuel prices and unemployment, ‘Achhe Din’ might draw more jibes than votes.

BJP’s top leaders are going across the country congratulating themselves with a rather delusional economic report, which makes tall claims of growth in the economy and the social sector that includes delivering food security, direct benefit transfer, Jan Suraksha Yojana and open-defecation free villages.

The party will try to sell the last four years as ‘48 months of transforming India’ and will run audio-visuals alongside, hoping it makes their point comes across as stronger and more believable. 

Wastage of public money
Every government spends a hefty amount on advertising annually through various forms, be it in print, electronic media or others. But do governments need advertising? I think government advertises to propagate its work, new schemes and policies as people do not listen carefully to these types of news on TV channels or read newspapers minutely.

Therefore, governments need advertising just to highlight their work and to reach out to people in remote areas and villages. There is nothing wrong in advertising with such intent (niyat) to impart information.

However, the problem starts when the advertising is used for propaganda of the ruling party and to polish the image of their leaders. Most advertisements extol past achievements and hold out promises of a rosy future, interspersed with photographs of smiling villagers or urban poor standing next to health centres, schools, irrigation projects or rice fields. Such ads lack credibility and are rightly seen by most readers as government propaganda.

If you go to any village on the periphery (maybe around 60 km away) of any mega city in India and talk to the people about government schemes, you will notice that they know nothing about Swachh Bharat or any other major scheme, they don’t even know some major benefits they are entitled to.

Despite huge amounts spent on ads and other forms of communication, even people in urban areas don’t know about various schemes. Hence, the point is government ads should reach the target audience and the real beneficiaries.

Publicity blitz
According to a reply to an RTI query as reported in media, the Modi government spent a whopping Rs 3,755 crore on its publicity in three-and-a-half years till October 2017.

The expenditure on advertisements from April 2014 to October 2017 on electronic and print media and outdoor publicity is Rs 37,54,06,23,616, according to the reply given by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry. The application was filed by Greater Noida-based social activist Ramveer Tanwar.

Will the new slogan work for BJP?
Will ‘Saaf Niyat, Sahi Vikas’ bring the desired success to the BJP in 2019 elections or will it be received by the public like ‘India shining, India rising’ in 2004?

In 2004, BJP believed that there was no alternative to them and looked nearly invincible. Then they blundered into ‘India shining’ campaign and celebrated trivial urban joys like access to mobile phones. BJP lost heavily to the faceless Congress led by an inexperienced leader in Sonia Gandhi.

Now, the latest campaign’s beautiful smiles thanking Modi for giving them homes, education, electricity, bank accounts, gas cylinders, etc, paints a rosy picture. It gives a feeling that the government has done very well and people believe in it because the government believes in it. However, people might think otherwise.

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