India's stimulus package

Geeta Padmanabhan

indian-electionsPeople in the know – CEOs and HR consultants – have told me that the impact of global economic meltdown will be relatively less in India. Among the many reasons they proffer are
-financial conservatism

-smaller % of exports

-large local markets

-strong banking regulations.

Yesterday an activist added two:

-a lot of our money is safely stored in Swiss banks

-we can’t get poorer than this.

Of course, the IT industry has had to make “corrections”. No one talks about increments and salaries that have been pruned to jaw-closing levels. Appointment orders for fresh graduates have been put on hold. Workers have been retrenched in export oriented industries (Tirupur, Surat).

In this election year, the government and the political parties aren’t taking chances. Unlike in the US where every dollar spent comes under an electron microscope( editor’s note – we wish!), the parties here have come to a tacit understanding. We need economic stimulus. We can’t allow the country to slide into massive unemployment . We need to pump money into the markets, purchasing power into people’s hands. So we will make the general elections a grand one. We can’t let all the cash and kind to go into IPL players’ hands alone!

How does the election stimulus work?
Apart from placing full-page ads in newspapers and clippings/jingles on TV, Radio, Internet and Social networks, political parties are seeking professional help to campaign for the Lok Sabha elections.
The Congress Party has announced that it will be using the services of three advertising agencies. Rs. 150 crore has been allocated for this. If you think this is huge, well, the party doesn’t. Additional amounts will be distributed on public rallies, posters and handouts.
The party has bought the rights of Jai Ho for campaign use. (Amount paid not disclosed.)
I hear a lot of people who lost their jobs will make a killing in this election market. You get paid for joining the rallies – every party needs “crowds” to wave flags, to clap – hey, the TV cameras are rolling! In a previous election, Congress lackeys hired dancers known for their off-colour antics on stage to “attract” crowds.
Mayavathi of BSP has made huge elephant statues (1 crore each) to be placed in vantage points. I saw them. They are works of art. This is her election symbol.
It speaks to the level of maturity of the Indian electorate that they are completely bi-partisan.
The same guys will make posters for all parties (500?), do wall paintings, clean those up on election commission’s orders, and then write them again. You might even see the same crowds in all the meetings and rallies.
The same ad agencies will make posters, videos, newspaper page-outs. Ad agency Crayons has extended its services impartially to Congress, BJP, Samajwadi Party and Shiromani Akali Dal. It is not likely to go out of business ever. Ad budgets are likely to go up by 25-30% (Economic Times, Sep 23 2008) the Business Standard ran its story under the heading “Political Advertising comes of Age”. Ha!

All this is official. Unofficially, money is disbursed on the pretext of “It is our culture to give money when a kid is named.” “We always distribute cash during Holi!” All this has been caught on camera. One board in Thirumangalam whose townizens got instant fame for auctioning votes said: “Twelve votes here. Bids invited.”

Political watcher Vinod Anand writes in his report, “Unlike the US, there is no requirement for political parties in India to disclose their campaign expenditure. The media has speculated that all the political parties are expected to spend around 500 crore rupees on advertising and communication alone, which will be but a fraction of the total campaign cost.”
The report concludes, “What will be the total cost of campaigning for this Lok Sabha election? It might be enough to fund the free mid-day meal scheme in (all)our schools for the duration of this campaign. So next time you trash a publicity flier/brochure handed to you by your friendly neighbourhood politician, just consider that a kid in India went hungry to fund it.”

How much is the government spending for this great exercise in democracy?
Here is a sample: 20,140 litres of violet ink will be used in elections this year. This, when we have electronic voting machines that work.
Watch this space for more.

Picture by Bryce Edwards under Creative Commons License

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