What, pray, people of Odisha or Tamil Nadu have to do with what the Delhi government does with its schools? Nothing, right? The states are geographically far apart. There is not even a political thread to link Delhi’s ruling dispensation with them; the demographic overlap is not significant either. The import of the actions of the government in Delhi which have a strong local context is most likely to be lost on people far off. So, advertisements dealing with issues of local nature in the capital-state do have no business to be on the pages of newspapers in other states. The incompatibility between the message and the target audience is just too glaring.
But, of course, that is not how the Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP government in Delhi thinks. Its spending on advertisements vaulted from Rs 25 crore in 2013-14 to Rs 81 crore in 2015-16. The CAG report which discusses the matter says the actual cost of advertisements this year may go beyond Rs 114.31 crore, given the committed liabilities of the government. For those not in the know, the government had earmarked a whopping sum of Rs 500 crore on publicity in its budget this year; it was subsequently slashed to Rs 100 crore in the revised estimate. According to the report, as quoted by the media, more than 85 percent of the spending on print media went to publications in others cities and states.
Whether a cash-strapped government is morally justified in spending such amount of money on publicity is not the debate we are going into right now. We are not even asking whether the money could have been put to more productive use – productive for the people that is. The question here is on the wisdom or the lack of it involved in the mindless spending of public money. On its part, the government has said it is not aware of the report and is prepared to discuss it when it is tabled. But the fact that a lot of Delhi government’s advertisements have come out in media in far off states brooks no questions. How does the government explain that?
It would be instructive to get into the AAP’s turbulent equation with the media before going further. It’s a party which flourished amid immense media goodwill before it squandered it all in reckless attacks on the latter. The chill in the relationship coincided with the flight of media-savvy intellectual faces of the party such as Yogendra Yadav, Prashant Bhushan among others and the rapid dip in ideological content in the AAP’s thought process. Also, it was the time when an influential section of the media had begun toeing party lines openly.
With support from the media far less than effusive and no hope of even its good work being appreciated, the AAP wanted to buy its way out of the situation. It spent huge amounts on its achievements in Delhi, particularly in the areas of school education and public health where it has earned some appreciation for its efforts. That the gap between the government and the party blurred in its advertisements and that rival parties moved court over it were a minor concern since there could always be a way around. It’s a tactic every government resorts to.
It would have been okay if the advertisements reached to a defined target group. In the case of AAP, there appears to be no such clear target audience, particularly when the ads are published outside Delhi. If it involved a political strategy – for example, the party wants to expand in Punjab and already has a support base in the state to which it wants convey a message – it would still be fine, if not entirely acceptable. But why in states where you don’t even have recollection value? And why messages that people outside would find difficult to relate to or identify with?
Of course, it is sheer wastage of public money. The AAP government’s ad spend defies common sense.