May 16, 2014: Watershed moment in the history of our nation. A new dawn, end of an era, epoch-making mandate – just pick the phrase that catches your fancy. We shall go with the in-house favourite: the day acche din arrived. But since cynicism comes to us as naturally as misogyny to The Times of India, we were skeptical that the hand would keep popping up time and again – reminding us of certain birthdays and anniversaries (marriage, death, elopement and other such important events) in the form of those full-page newspaper advertisements.
How wrong we were. August 20 brought in the birth anniversary of Reluctant-Politician-With-A-Killer-Smile, a.k.a Rajiv Gandhi (not present-day RaGa, thought the same description does apply). Usually a day of great revelry for our daily newspapers, this time, it was as sedate as it gets. There were none of those ads with that amiable smile. None at all. But guess who’s stepped in to fill that vacuum? (Not that it’s unfair – newspapers too should have their share of ache din, after all.) The new government of course, silly. And the new poster-boy on the block is our man himself.
Don’t believe us? Well, we have the numbers. We browsed through four leading English dailies – front page to sports page – for 50 days (imagine the horror) starting July 17, and discovered this new government loves itself to bits just as much as the previous one did. There were as many as 70 full and half-page ads issued by the government in self-appreciation in those 50 days. Also, we only counted the ones that had the most eligible bachelor in the country (as declared by Mallika Sherawat) posing with a big booming smile – and this is only the Delhi editions we checked.
The break-up reveals an interesting pattern. Hindustan Times, with 29 ads, beat The Times of India (20) to the maximum number of ads (no wonder TOI is resorting to morning challenges to prove it has more readership than HT).The Indian Express is a close third with 19 ads. The Hindu though, with only two ads, came a distant fourth. Clearly, a change in top guard, and having the new editor Malini Parthasarthy pose for photos with Mr. Prime Minster and displaying it as her pinned tweet haven’t helped The Hindu much.
So the obvious question now. How much exactly did the government spend on self-aggrandisement in the aforementioned 50 days? Though the exact number is difficult to arrive at, the Directorate of Audio Visual Publicity (DAVP), the agency that “provides solutions for the paid publicity requirements” of the government does provide some insight on its website.
Let’s look at the rate-chart for full-page ads in the newspapers concerned. (The chart can be generated by keying in relevant inputs here.) It must be noted that these calculations are for colour display ads (the only ones we have considered).
A price-chart can be generated for half-page ads following a similar process.
Going by these rate-charts, the central government has spent Rs 1,80,28,559 on 35 full-page ads and Rs 1,05,78,285 on 35 half-page ads. That is a total of almost Rs 3 crore on 70 ads in 50 days.
Also, we have selected an arbitrary future date, since DAVP’s website doesn’t allow you to select dates in the past. However, rates remain exactly the same irrespective of whatever date is input.
We had done a similar exercise back in September 2013 when we had filed a Right To Information (RTI) petition seeking information about money spent by the then-government on ads in the same newspapers on the occasion of Rajiv Gandhi’s death anniversary. The RTI had revealed that the previous government had spent almost Rs 50 lakh on ads in one day (much more in total as this is the amount spent on ads in only four English newspapers). So Modi or Manmohan– our politicians love basking in self-glorification at the taxpayer’s expense. And our newspapers are clearly the biggest winners.
Note: It must be clarified here that the final figure may not be accurate to the digit, since a few of the ads were not through the DAVP but issued directly by Bharatiya Janata Party-run state governments. It is, of course, another question why a Madhya Pradesh or a Chhattisgarh state government would pay for an ad in a Delhi edition of a newspaper, but they apparently have.
Data collected by Mahima Singh, Kartik Nijhawan and Arnab Gautam