It is time for the BJP government in Madhya Pradesh to reap what it has been sowing for 15 years.
It has launched a publicity blitzkrieg to monetise its purported achievements. Anyone who lives in the state can’t escape the carpet bombing unleashed by the government.
The media, both new and traditional, is drowning in it. Billboards inform citizens that they live in a golden state, Swarnim Madhya Pradesh.
Freebies distributed among the poor carry photographs of their benefactors. Our mandarins had even planned tiles carrying the PM’s and the CM’s images outside the government built houses.
It is overkill. If you live in MP, you get the impression that every morning the sun rises in the east due to the efforts of only one person. No awards for guessing who that person is.
The cue, apparently, comes from the laboratory of Hindutva: Gujarat. Narendra Modi, as chief minister, had put his photograph on school bags distributed among children. In MP, CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan too has established himself as a brand.
Advertising professionals say excessive publicity can lead to a ‘blind spot’, when people stop noticing it. The BJP had seen it once during its Shining India campaign.
The politicians are in the business of selling dreams. They are the ultimate marketing professionals.
But, sometimes, publicity can be counter-productive.
I witnessed that last week while attending an official programme at Bhopal. It was a conclave on start-ups, attended mostly by students and young crowds with dream in their eyes. They were listening to speakers, including Chouhan, very attentively.
But the moment the CM started talking about roads in MP being better than the US, half the audience at the back of the hall tried to suppress their grin and smirk.
That kind of feedback would never be noticed by the ministers and top officials of the government occupying sofas in the front rows.
The carpet bombing, in any case, has blurred the distinction between the ruling party and the government.
Govt involved in party activity
Take for example the CM’s Jan Ashirward Yatra of the state. It is a party programme, attended by party leaders. He goes around the state in a vehicle specially built for the purpose by the BJP. The vehicle, flagged off by party president, carries party’s name and election symbol.
The grand tour of the state is clearly aimed at garnering votes ahead of the forthcoming assembly elections.
Yet the CM has been using state plane for his travel. The PWD is asked to construct stage for his speeches and functions in the various towns and villages.
The municipalities are writing to collectors to sanction budgets for expenses that they incurred on tents, chairs, mikes and other arrangements for the programme.
The official channels are publicising his travel that is less about highlighting the government’s achievements and more about seeking votes for the ruling party.
Two months down the line, the lines have got so blurred that no one is sure whether it is a party programme or an official one.
Things have come to such a pass that not only the officials, who are expected to keep their distance from political parties, but even people in general have stopped noticing such transgression.
Opposition lack credibility
The opposition parties’ protest lacks credibility because they do the same things when in power.
One senior IAS officer, however, showed the guts to issue a circular advising the district collectors not to spend her department’s official budget for various development schemes on the political yatras, rallies or such related functions.
The intrepid officer, Dipali Rastogi, in fact warned the collectors that if they spent the department’s development budget on such functions, it would be considered an act of grave financial irregularity.
Earlier, Rastogi had instructed officers of her department to ensure that students living in government run institutions were not used as audience during any yatra or function of political nature.
As the circular coincided with the BJP’s Jan Ashirward Yatra, no one missed the message.
According to reliable sources, the officer received a rap on the knuckles from her seniors for her pains.
Rastogi is apparently not the only one for who cares. There have been systematic leaks in media and social media to prove that how government machinery and funds have been used for the ruling party’s Jan Ashirwad Yatra.
These leaks could not have been possible without government servants who believe in maintaining their distance from political parties.
The parliamentary system works on the fine distinction between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary.
That precarious balance between the ruling party and government must be maintained for the health of the democracy.
My column Powers That Be in DB Post of 6 October 2018