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Congress-NCP hide their faces, but ask for votes

These days, the entire state is witnessing an advertising blitzkrieg in print as well as the electronic media, touting the achievements of the Congress-NCP. A cool R93 crore has been set aside exclusively for this campaign in
the run-up to the state assembly elections.

This special financial provision, made during the Monsoon session of the state legislature, is in addition to the regular budget for the current financial year 2014-15. This month alone, R42 crore will be spent on publicity, as the election code of conduct may come into force any time now. The total spending by the state is significant in view of the Congress-led UPA government at Centre having spent R380 crore for its nationwide campaign prior to Lok Sabha elections, covering 29 states, seven union territories and the National Capital Region.

Political parties enjoy the freedom to spend as much as they want on promotion, since they use party funds, but a government campaign is always supported by the state treasury — essentially the taxpayers’ money. Such nitty-gritties apart, an astonishing fact is that the state’s advertising campaign, approved by Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, is a faceless drive. The print advertisements released by the directorate general of information and public relations (DGIPR), a wing of the CM-led information and public relations department, do not feature any face from the state cabinet. Rather, they boast of the government’s achievements.

Party leaders from both the Congress and the NCP appear baffled that Chavan has directed his department to not use anybody’s face — not even his or that of Deputy CM Ajit Pawar. The reason, though, which is not being shared by any of his close associates, is itself an admission of the anti-incumbency mood among the people. People do not want to see faces of the rulers, say Congress leaders in private. Otherwise, no government ad is carried without the pictures of CM, Deputy CM and concerned ministers.

Irked by the CM’s stand, his colleagues have devised campaigns for their specific departments. These are different from the campaigns undertaken by the DGIPR. This means that the expenditure on publicity will go beyond R93 crore, the approved budget, since departmental drives are being run by diverting some funds from the annual financial provisions.

Even more baffling is the fact that the campaigns by state departments offer credit to respective ministers in charge, and not to the CM or Deputy CM. This cold war has made the issue even more interesting. Recently, when the state food and civil supplies department approached DGIPR for a campaign based on the food security scheme, it was told that that the advertisements would appear, but without a picture of Anil Deshmukh, the minister concerned, as the CM himself would not appear in it. The department decided to run its own campaign.

With the state’s official campaign missing members of the Democratic Front government, the question of photos of Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Sharad Pawar, the party bosses of Congress and NCP, does not arise. This is happening for the first time since campaigning intensified with advertising through media. The CM’s decision also confirms the anti-establishment mood. Such a bold decision would not have been possible unless it had been discussed with party high commands of respective parties.

Today, howsoever controversial or unpopular he may have been for his critics, Prithviraj Chavan maintains a clean image as compared to his cabinet colleagues. If he wants to avoid his own picture, it means he is avoiding projecting himself. He is seeking votes on whatever good his government has done in the last four years. The ad campaign is contrary to the one run by Narendra Modi, on whom the entire communication was centred.

Top-ranking leaders of the Congress are also convinced that the people of Maharashtra are fed up with unabated revelations of scams and corruption involving prominent faces. The image of the state government has taken a severe beating. If the same faces appear in ads, the vote share would further reduce. Thus, this move is designed to stay in power.

The writer is Political Editor of mid-day

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