LAST MONTH, the beleaguered United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government introduced a series of pre-election advertisements that it insists are nothing of the sort. Under the banner of “Bharat Nirman”, the new campaign features six television commercials, each intended to highlight a separate achievement of the government. Though the slogan is not a new one (it names a government plan for rural infrastructure development, and was used in two previous UPA ad campaigns), this campaign shows an evident shift in the intended audience: the urban middle class is the target, as is abundantly clear from both the choice of subjects and the style of creative execution.
Apart from familiar themes like minority rights and increasing literacy, we have ads that showcase the rapid rise in mobile phone penetration, the construction of mass transit projects, the inauguration of new IITs, IIMs and central universities, and the support given to women’s education through a variety of government schemes. In one ad, the story of the Delhi Metro is told through the wonderstruck description of a village choudhary, who holds forth on the magic of progress to a group of unbelieving peers; in another, we see a typically hectic scene on the day of an Indian wedding, with mobile phones playing a crucial role as family members navigate the chaos.
The effort to recruit every possible bit of good news is almost archeological in scope: one ad that references the UPA’s rural employment scheme and the Right To Information Act also manages to cite Indira Gandhi’s nationalisation of banks and—reaching all the way back to the Nehru era—the building of the Bhakra-Nangal dams and the Green Revolution. The end result is a diverse array of claimed achievements, presented in varying tones but held together by the tagline “Sabka Hit. Sabka Haq.” (Loosely, “Everyone’s right. For the good of everyone.”) The ads do display some restraint. “Bharat Nirman” does not have the sharp swagger of “India Shining”, trading an impatient verb for a serene noun, and they are careful to suggest that much work remains to be done, hence the line “Meelo hum aa gaye, meelo hamein jaana hain” (“We have covered miles and we have to go miles forward”).