Indian newspaper readers woke up to a bizarre print spectacle on 20 August, a day also celebrated as Sadbhavna Divas. Page after page contained advertisements issued by the Congress-led Central and state governments, and various public departments to commemorate the birthday of Rajiv Gandhi, former Indian Prime minister. Initial surprise gave way to shock which turned to irritation, and finally anger as the reader flipped through newspapers that carried the late Prime Minister’s handsome face staring somewhere into the space on almost every page.
In response to a similar advertising blitzkrieg on the death anniversary of Rajiv Gandhi in 2010, Ramchandra Guha had written, “A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that on May 21, 2010, perhaps Rs 60 or 70 crore were spent by the taxpayer — without his and her consent — on praising Rajiv Gandhi. Since the practice has been in place since 2005, the aggregate expenditure to date on this account is probably in excess of Rs 300 crore.”
If spending Rs 300 crore of the taxpayers’ money in self promotion through hero worshipping its former leader (incidentally, named in the Bofors scandal and accused of owning Swiss bank accounts) isn’t corruption, then what is? As the Congress-led UPA government struggles to save its reputation in the wake of accusations of corruption in almost everything it has undertaken in its second term in power, such shameless self advertisement can only ruin its image even further.
Pritam Sengupta from sans serif estimates that there were a total of 108 advertisements amounting to 48¼ of the published pages in the well known English dailies Hindustan Times, The Times of India, The Indian Express, Mail Today, The Hindu, The Pioneer, The Statesman, The Telegraph, The Economic Times, Business Standard, The Financial Express and Mint (Berliner).
‘Sadbhavna’ in Hindi refers to noble thoughts and having good feelings for others. But sadly the action of the Congress party at the centre and across some states displayed little nobility of thinking or action even on the day it has set aside to entertain noble thoughts.
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- Avinandan Mukherjee