Monday, May 13, 2013

UPA hard-sells nine years of rule

NEW DELHI, May 14, 2013:--

It is a busy marriage household. Meal menus are being finalised. Relatives are being called; train and cab bookings are being made — all on the cellphone.

This scene is not from an ad for Vodafone or Airtel, but for the United Progressive Alliance. To mark nine years of UPA rule, with an eye on general elections next year, Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari unveiled a dozen advertisement clips on Monday. Among the achievements that will be touted is the increase in rural teledensity from 5.8 per cent in 2008 to 40 per cent in 2013. From 16.5 crore in 2004, there are now 86.5 crore mobile phone users. These ads, Mr. Tewari said, are a 'counter-narrative' to the 'corrosive discourse' prevalent within a 2.5-km radius of the capital's Raisina Hill.

If expansion of services — roads, educational institutions and infrastructure — was one of the themes of the publicity blitzkrieg, the other was creation of a rights-based regime.

One clip highlights a successful woman, being feted at an awards ceremony, who had availed herself of mid-day meals while in school, and a post-matriculation government scholarship. In another, labourers stand up to an exploitative contractor because they can now take recourse to the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). An aware Muslim girl asserts her right to avail herself of a loan meant for minorities from a government bank. There is a common refrain, with characters asking, "Have you exercised your right?"

It claims to have provided 'political stability.' On 'social cohesion,' Mr. Tewari said 'nothing like 2002 has repeated itself,' in a barb at Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

'Internal security' has improved. Avoiding reference to the current dip in growth figures, the Minister said the government had delivered on 'economic development,' with 8 per cent growth rates during the peak of global recession. On 'international relations', by dismantling the 'nuclear apartheid,' the government had got India 'to the high table of nations.'

Asked by The Hindu if the government was engaged in a propaganda exercise for the Congress in the run-up to the polls, the Minister said, "This is not a political campaign, but it is important to remember that the Chinese wall between the party and the government is porous since people elect the party."

Rejecting the almost-inevitable comparisons with the India Shining pitch of the NDA government in 2004 as 'erroneous,' Mr. Tewari said, "This is not an attempt to inflate, extrapolate or spin. It is a story of what happened over the past nine years. India Shining bombed, the India Story will fly."

The government's campaign does have a degree of humility, with the tagline, "We have come miles; we have to go miles.' One senior official said, "In a country that still needs a food security Bill, being boastful will only irritate the audience."

The ad clip highlighting the spread of phones is a pointer. Establishing the centrality of telecommunication in planning a modern-day wedding may be easy. Convincing the voter that he has the UPA to thank for it — while expecting him to forget the scandals associated with the sector — will be the key challenge for the government.
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