Sneha earned her degree in journalism from Kamala Nehru College. She has been sub-editor with Center for Science and Environment's magazine for children - Gobar Times. She worked as a Development Facilitator in a Himalayan village with a grassroots NGO Chirag, and co-ordinated RTI workshops with another in Delhi. She is our token NGO type in a fast corporatizing media landscape.
30 crore of butter
If I asked you the birth anniversary of Rajiv Gandhi, chances are you wouldn’t know, even if you read The Hindu. But you should. After all, our government has spent around Rs. 30 crores (could be more) on advertisements on the birth and death anniversaries of Rajiv and Indira Gandhi in the years 2009 to 2011. A Right to Information (RTI) reply from Directorate of Advertising & Visual Publicity (DAVP) tells us as much, along with the dates and amounts of how much was spent.
The RTI was filed by an activist group who call themselves RTI Anonymous. They file RTI’s on behalf of whistleblowers who fear they may be victimized if their identity is disclosed. Ritesh Singh, a member of this group and a student of IIT Kharagpur, filed the RTI in his name. Appalled by the ridiculously high figures, he says “This is absolute waste of public money. The Congress Party may spend it. Not the Government of India.” Distressed by such reckless spending, he worries about a deliberate attempt to induce hero worship – “This expenditure we have exposed isn’t a direct violation of any law. So, the only way to stop it is by shaming the Government.” But can the government be shamed? On the contrary, we see a play of one-upmanship by various ministries.
In 2011 Rs. 4.79 crore was spent on Rajiv Gandhi’s and Rs. 2.46 crore on Indira Gandhi’s birth anniversaries respectively. Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting CM Jatua had revealed as much in a reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha in the last session. One must appreciate the Right to Information Act that has empowered citizens to question the government without having to be a member of parliament. We don’t have to be on the floor of any of the houses of parliament to get answers now. Minister Jatua also revealed the following: the Health Ministry spent over Rs 95 lakh, Ministry of New and Renewable energy spent over Rs 82 lakh, Ministry of Tourism spent Rs 79 lakh, Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation spent over Rs 65 lakh, Information and Broadcasting Ministry spent over Rs 58 lakh, Social Justice ministry spent over Rs 51 lakh, Women and Child Development Ministry spent Rs 25 lakh and Ministry for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Rs 21 lakh. Phew!
The ministry-wise statistic for amounts spent on Indira Gandhi’s birth anniversary were also shared, and the story is the same. This is not paying tribute to national leaders. This is kowtowing. It’s an inter-ministry fawning contest, making their ad the biggest and fanciest to impress the high command. The public is not impressed though.
Preetam Sengupta had counted and concluded that in 2011 there were 69 ads in covering 12 pages in 12 newspapers (Delhi Edition) on Rajiv Gandhi’s death anniversary. On his birth anniversary the same year the number rose to 108 ads covering 48 pages in those same 12 newspapers and written about it on the blog sans serif.
What the RTI reveals could be a deflated figure. In his editorial titled Memories at Public Expense that appeared in The Telegraph, Ramchandra Guha writes – “A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that on May 21, 2010, perhaps Rs. 60 or Rs. 70 crore were spent by the taxpayer — without his and her consent — on praising Rajiv Gandhi. Since the practice has been in place since 2005, the aggregate expenditure to date on this account is probably in excess of Rs. 300 crore”
By the way Rajiv Gandhi’s birth and death anniversary are August 20 and May 21 respectively. Indira Gandhi’s being November 19 and October 31. If in The Hindu or The Times of India, you read the ads instead of news you might have known.