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Political advertising or public feedback

Updated June 10, 2013

enter image description herePolitical advertising campaigns have come a long way across the world. But if we look at their impact in India, we realise that there has not been a single campaign since India achieved independence which has been able to increase the ever dipping confidence of the public at large in their leader(s), political parties, their ideologies and the much promoted achievements. This is reflected in the fact that despite of we having completed 66 years of our independence, the voter turnout (percentage of total registered voters) in our general elections has never gone beyond 63.56 per cent(1984 general elections). Even in 2009, the voter turnout was 58.19 per centwhich shows that there always exist that group comprising of 30 per cent (approximated after writing off 10 per cent for those who are not able to vote due to inaccessibility to polling booths, ill health, job locations etc.) of eligible voters who have either lost faith in Indian democracy and the candidates contested by the parties or have developed that “nothing will change” attitude.

In 2004, Indians witnessed a campaign called “INDIA SHINING” and are now being subject to what is being called “BHARAT NIRMAN”. There is a huge debate on whether there exists any difference between the two campaigns? Another discussion which is making rounds is that if “INDIA SHINING” was responsible for the debacle of BJP in 2004, has Congress also decided to fall in the same black hole come 2014?

I wonder why we are even having these debates about these campaigns. Have we even analyzed whether our voter has evolved to that higher pedestal where she leads a minimum living standard and needs that “last mile support” in the form of a motivating campaign inviting her to be a part of the “change”. Is she even equipped to be a part of that “change” and on top of that does she even knows what “change” is being visualized? Public money to the tune of Rs. 150-200 Crore is being spent to create a positive wave of excitement to trap the sadly forgetful Indian to gather votes for the party in power in the upcoming elections.

USA has seen many victorious political campaigns which swept their entire nation. One such blitzkrieg was “YES WE CAN” and “COUNTRY I LOVE” which managed to drive Barack Obama home. This campaign was based on developing an emotional connect between a leader and the people of a country where literacy rate itself is 99 per cent with a HDI (human development index) of 0.937 (highest possible being 1). Don’t we need to first carry out a revolution bringing up our people to a level where they have trust in India’s system and processes, 100 per cent education levels and very strong HDI?

Every Indian state today is following the centre’s strategy and recklessly spending public money on advertising their self proclaimed achievements through newspapers, television channels and radio. How many such campaigns are based on electorate feedback? The sad answer is none.

When a FMCG company advertises a product like soap, it is based on in depth marketing research. This research is supported by customer feedback where the customer is obviously king and finally goes on to decide the fate of the product. Is the voter not king for the elected leaders? If he is the one who decides their fate then why is he not surveyed before releasing any information through any form of media? I am sure that if we run a questionnaire asking the people across India’s states about the performance of the current government (2009-2014), it would yield a dismal response. “Are you better off than you were 5 years back?” and the obvious answer from a majority of the randomly selected sample would be “NO”.

enter image description herePolitical advertising where the state/central government(s) are listing down schemes without studying their impact have to be stopped to ensure that public money is spent on research rather than on advertising. In this case, if we take the example of NREGA and its impact, the government is simply canvassing higher employment numbers whereas there is no real infrastructure growth and the rural populace is being engaged in passive employment. On the sanitation front, a majority of men and women across rural areas still use the roadsides/bushes/other open areas as toilets. They have to wait for the sunset in the evening and wake up before the sunrise in the morning to defecate in the open areas near their houses. Is it still justified for our government to advertise India Shining/Bharat Nirman?

The opposition party in India is losing out on time and as the election draws closer, I am sure that they will also come up with a campaign which will have a portion blaming the ruling party enlisting their wrongdoings while the rest of it will comprise of macro-level tall claims of what they will do if voted to power. My question remains, “have we asked the public?”

It is only when we will go and ask the farmers, rickshaw pullers, cobblers, vegetable vendors, paan wallahs, taxi drivers in every city/town/village that we will get the actual response on whether the people are leading an improved lifestyle then they were a few years back. This is the true barometer which will help us design future strategy/amend current policies. Reckless publicity is just to eyewash the people of this country. Beware and introspect.