Mumbai: Even as finance minister P. Chidambaram was delivering his Budget speech in Parliament on 29 February, all hell was breaking loose at the Mumbai headquarters for Paramin Advertising and Marketing Associates.
A team of 12 people had already started burning up the phone lines to get information and images that could be used in the creative for a Nationalist Congress Party, or NCP, advertisement. Others were fervently calling newspapers across the country to book advertising space for the creative.
And by evening, everything was in place.
In their keenness to get ahead in the Rs60,000 crore farm waiver claim game, it is estimated that NCP spent about half of what it had spent during the enitre Lok Sabha election campaign in 2004.
Cashing in: A Shiv Sena hoarding in Mumbai claims credit for the Rs60,000 crore farm loan waiver announced in Budget 2008. (Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/ Mint)
As a result, over the week, several newspapers, including English and regional language dailies, carried full page advertisements—featuring photographs of agriculture minister and NCP chief Sharad Pawar, alongside a tag line that said: “Promise fulfilled.”
The ad highlighted the party’s contribution in securing the Rs60,000 crore debt waiver for farmers. The waiver, announced in the 2008 Budget, is being considered as the United Progressive Alliance’s, or UPA’s, and more importantly the Congress party’s unique selling proposition, come next national elections.
“There is a widespread belief in all political parties, that such sops automatically translate into political and electoral mileage,” says Kumar Ketkar chief editor of Loksatta, the Indian Express Group’s Marathi publication.
Not surprising that most political parties also made such claims on the biggest bonanza handed out to Indian farmers.
“It’s just like the men in blue (the Indian cricket team). When they win, they get the credit. No one looks at the different people who contributed to their success. Similarly, it was the finance minister and the UPA government that delivered this Budget, and the Rs60,000 crore loan waiver to farmers. No one can take that away from them,” says Prathap Suthan, national creative director, Cheil Communications India, who was responsible for the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance’s “India Shining” campaign in 2004.
In Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena, too, had swung into action on the Budget day.
Hurriedly put-together hoardings in Mumbai featured photographs of Uddhav Thackeray and Bal Thackeray and said Shiv Senanene dila awaaz sarkar la, nyaay milala garib shetkaryala… (Shiv Sena gave a call to the government, which resulted in justice for farmers).” The hoardings also featured the slogan “deta ki jata? (Will you give or go?).”
Similarly, the Uttar Pradesh government put out full-page ads in leading dailies across India featuring a photograph of chief minister Mayawati, though that ad criticized the Budget and said that it was “far from ground reality…”.
According to an NCP party spokesperson, who did not wish to be named, the party had placed ads in some 200 publications all over the country. Media spend for the week was pegged at Rs5 crore, which is 40% of the party’s estimated ad spend of Rs12 crore for the Lok Sabha elections in 2004, the spokesperson added.
The department of information and public relations, Uttar Pradesh refused to comment on the number of publications the Mayawati ad was released in or the media spend during the week following the Budget.
While political parties may not succeed in claiming all credit for the electoral sops, experts suggest that it is now more than imperative for the UPA to ensure that the loan waiver is effective before the 25 June deadline. All the more since some critics are already alleging that the waiver is more rhetoric and that several farmers, even in areas such as Vidarbha that have seen a spate of suicides by farmers, won’t benefit.
The challenge then would be to translate it into political gains, at least in the assembly elections in key states such as Karnataka, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh that are due this year, if not in the general election scheduled for 2009.
“The Budget announcement is just the first step. It is now up to political parties to frame that unique proposition in a way that is advantageous to them,” says Santosh Desai, MD and CEO, Future Brands. “An opportunity that is available to each and every political party.”
According to some analysts, media spending for all parties would have run into a couple of crores in the week after the Budget. This is despite the fact that political parties get subsidized ad rates, which could be as low as 10% of the price on the ad rate card.
Post-Budget editions traditionally attract categories that are looking to reach the financial community—this would include advertisers from categories such as banking, finance, corporate and real estate firms.
So, last minute insertions and ad space are rarely bought at a premium, as other high-spending categories, such as consumer products, refrain from advertising in these editions, says a media buyer, who did not wish to be identified citing company policy.
However, there are potential downsides. Having rushed in to claim credit for the loan waiver, political parties may do a quick turnaround when they find that a lot of farmers could be left out of the scheme.
“It could prove dangerous for them as well, having staked claim. These political parties could also face the backlash,” says Ketkar of Loksatta.
Arguing similarly, Arvind Sharma, chairman of India sub-continent, Leo Burnett, says that for a party which was elected on the “aam admi” (common man) platform, the UPA government has sent out a broad signal, saying if re-elected, this government will do more. “And, to that extent, I think it’s brilliant politics.”