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It's a war of punch lines in UP

By Nistula Hebbar in Lucknow
May 05, 2004 20:55 IST
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What is better than being the Uttam Pradesh of the country? Being Sarvottam Pradesh -- which is exactly what Bharatiya Janata Party spin doctors sitting in the Lucknow office of the party are trying to sell as their party line for the 2004 elections.

With all major political parties giving a final push to their campaign in the politically crucial Uttar Pradesh, the punch line war is never far away. In a city known for its elaborate rules of etiquette, gloves are off for this war of words.

Daily newspapers have been inundated by surrogate and even direct advertising campaigns from all parties, with Bollywood being the main inspiration.

Prakash Javadekar, BJP spokesperson, is a happy man as he tells one of his party officials of the 'filmi lines' he has coined for his latest speech. "I have development, water, electricity. What do you have," he questions an absent rival. A party worker blurts out "Maa."

Javadekar is unfazed, and replies: "I have that too, Atalji is like a mother to this country," he says. As he looks for approval, party officials tell him that the lines still require some work but are "super hit."

Surrogate advertisements from pro-Congress outfits like the Sufi Samaj of Moradabad and the Samaj Vikas Kendra, reportedly a Samajwadi outfit, try to out quip each other in newspapers everyday.

While the Sufi Samaj pokes fun at Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav for comparing his stand against the Babri demolition to Hazrat Imam's sacrifice at Karbala, by saying that if made the prime minister Mulayam might compare himself to Prophet Mohammad, other campaigns are less subtle.

The Samaj Vikas Kendra, in fact, shows a thumbs down to the Congress for running after the Bahujan Samaj Party. The portrayal of the Congress is that of a spurned lover, with the BSP acting as the hard-to-get coquette.

In these trial by media wars, the BJP is not too far behind. A shadow outfit reportedly owing allegiance to the BJP is the Rashtriya Jan Morcha, which is running ads showing the Congress coalition as a bunch of prime ministerial aspirants.

Sudeep Srivastav, a media consultant who is designing some of the BJP's "legitimate" media campaigns, says the race for advertisements started after it became clear that the Muslim vote was going to be split.

"Each party wants to corner the vote, which is why most of the advertisements are about the meaning of the word secular," he says.

Some surrogate advertisements are saying things that parties do not want to say out loud. For example, a Samaj Vikas Kendra campaign refers to the saree stampede which left 22 women dead. The Samajwadi Party has officially said that the stampede was an accident.

Javadekar says newspaper advertising is an unexplored vista. "We are still assessing whether these are effective or not, although the communication revolution has ensured that this is the only way to go."

What no one is talking about is the money being spent on buying space in newspapers. Conservative estimates puts the cost at Rs 1.25 lakh per advertisement. With a literacy rate which is among the lowest in the country, the jury is still out on whether these advertisements will do the trick.

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Nistula Hebbar in Lucknow