AAP and Congress can’t match BJP’s resources, though they claim the saffron party is ‘pressuring’ media houses.
BJP: 120, Congress: 6, AAP: 0.
No, this is not the number of seats won by the three key parties in the ongoing Gujarat assembly election. It’s the number of advertisements issued by these parties in the three top Gujarat dailies – Sandesh, Divya Bhaskar and Gujarat Samachar – over the last 15 days.
Newslaundry looked at their Ahmedabad editions between November 21 and December 5. On average, the BJP issued eight ads everyday across the three papers as against the Congress’s 0.4.
While exit polls have predicted a BJP landslide in the assembly election, with results due December 8, the BJP also swept the ad stakes in the state. The three newspapers published a total of 72 ads from the party on their front and back pages during this time period. This included full-page ads for prime minister Narendra Modi’s roadshow in Ahmedabad on December 1. Full-page ads also appeared on November 27, a day after the BJP released its election manifesto.
Most of the BJP’s ads revolved around its leaders hosting public meetings in Gujarat. Modi’s schedule invariably occupied almost half of page 1. Other schedules prominently advertised belonged to union ministers Amit Shah, Smriti Irani, Parshottam Rupala and Mansukh Mandaviya; chief ministers Bhupendra Patel, Himanta Biswa Sarma, Jairam Thakur and Yogi Adityanath; and others like Maharashtra deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis.
The highest number of BJP ads were published on November 22, with eight ads in each newspaper – three on the last page and five in the inside pages with details on public meetings featuring Rupala, Fadnavis, Mandaviya, Sharma and Thakur. A quarter of the last page of each paper had a beaming Amit Shah alongside his itinerary of public meetings that day in Banaskantha, Ahmedabad and Anand; and also events addressed by Bhupendra Patel and BJP president JP Nadda.
The party’s only jacket ad in the three papers appeared on December 1, when Modi held a 50-km blockbuster roadshow in Ahmedabad. The ad contained the route Modi would take with 35 stops, covering 16 assembly constituencies in three hours.
The ad on December 1.
On November 27, the BJP had full-page ads in the inside pages of each of the three papers, listing key points from the party manifesto or Sankalp Patra. These poll promises included implementing a uniform civil code, setting up an “anti-radicalisation” cell, building world-class sports infrastructure to host the 2036 Olympics, creating 20 lakh jobs, and establishing “AIIMS-like” medical facilities.
Additionally, Newslaundry counted 18 front-page ads on Modi’s public meetings in the last 15 days, all of which occupied half of page 1 except on December 1, when Modi held his roadshow. On November 24, for example, all three front pages had an ad with the venue and timings of four public meetings addressed by Modi in Aravalli, Banaskantha, Gandhinagar and Ahmedabad. Ads on Shah’s public meetings usually appeared on the last page – a total of 24 ads across the three newspapers, usually quarter-page.
The BJP ad detailing the promises made in its manifesto.
An ad on November 24 saying ‘BJP means trust’.
On various days, there were also multiple ads in the inside pages on the BJP’s achievements. These ads invariably began or ended with the text “Bhajp etle bharoso”, BJP means trust. One ad on November 24 read, “BJP means the one who maintains law and order; the one who ensures peace in the state; the one who ensures security of Maa Shakti; the one who protects women.” It ended with an appeal to vote the BJP to power.
Another ad lauded the BJP’s achievements during Covid: free rations to the poor, loans to hawkers without guarantee, nutritious food for labourers.
A third ad, published in all three papers on December 5, when voting took place in phase two, appealed to the public to vote for “Gujarat’s pride”, “for the one who fought against opponents of Gujarat, who stopped terrorists from entering the state, who has begun the process for uniform civil code, the one who had the world hail Gujarat”. It covered half of page 1 with a Modi cutout alongside smaller mugshots of Shah, Nadda, Bhupendra Patel and CR Patil.
What of the Congress?
The party had just two front-page, quarter-size ads in each of the three papers on December 4, a day before the second phase of voting, and another on December 5. The first ad talked up the Congress’s poll promises, including free electricity, gas cylinders at Rs 500, more jobs, and debt waiver for farmers.
The ad on December 5 reminded voters of “runaway” inflation, unemployment and “widespread” corruption. If they voted for the Congress, the ad said, they’d have a chance to improve the education system, provide jobs to youths, defeat inflation, and make Gujarat drug-free. “Change is the only alternative,” the ad ended.
Front page on December 5 featuring ads from the Congress and BJP.
The AAP, of course, had no ads at all in Divya Bhaskar, Sandesh and Gujarat Samachar from November 21 to December 5.
Allegations of ‘pressure’
These details reinforce how the ad war is heavily skewed in favour of the BJP. According to the Association for Democratic Reforms, the BJP had the largest contribution through electoral bonds between 2017 and 2021. The party also cornered 94 percent – Rs 174.06 crore – of total corporate donations from Gujarat in the same time period.
Manish Doshi, the spokesperson for the Congress in Gujarat, told Newslaundry the party has had to carefully ration its limited resources.
“During the first phase, we gave only two front-page ads on November 30 and December 1,” he said. “We will do the same for the second phase too on December 4 and 5. The ratio of spending between the Congress and the BJP is Re 1 to Rs 1 lakh. We can’t match the BJP’s funds. But we are focusing our spending on small public meetings and rallies.”
The AAP’s chief minister candidate in Gujarat, Isudan Gadhvi, had previously told Newslaundry his party’s activities were not being covered by the media in Gujarat. “We are not allowed to participate in the TV debates,” he alleged.
Manoj Barot, spokesperson for the AAP in Gujarat, agreed. “The truth is that the BJP has intimidated the media into not showing Isudan Gadhvi or Arvind Kejriwalji,” he alleged. “...The BJP knows it can somehow deal with the Congress, not AAP. They know AAP is an anti-corruption party and will expose them. That’s why they are blocking our entry into the state by different means such as hooliganism and stonewalling our participation in TV debates or coverage in newspapers.”
An AAP leader in Delhi, who spoke on condition of anonymity, claimed his party does not spend money on newspaper ads, choosing instead to focus their limited funds on social media.
“The party funds that we used to get through electoral bonds have stopped now. Through the ED, CBI and IT department, the BJP is targeting businessmen who had given us funds. So, in the last three or four years, party funds have further dried up,” the leader alleged, adding that the party’s social media campaign is run by “youths”.
He also said the AAP’s governments in Delhi and Punjab had bought ads in newspapers before the Gujarat assembly schedule was announced on November 4. For these efforts, the Congress had dubbed AAP the “Arvind Advertisement Party”.
Gujarat BJP spokesperson Yamal Vyas said he can’t speak for corporates on why they’re choosing the BJP over other parties. “For probity in fundings, we introduced a transparent system of electoral bonds,” he said. “As far as targeting businesses [who fund opposition parties] by ED, CBI and IT is concerned, the charges are baseless.”
Vyas also denied the allegation that his party “pressured” media houses into giving less coverage to opposition parties in the state.
Jayesh Thakrar, the resident editor of Sandesh in Saurashtra, said it was “not right” to say the media was not covering opposition parties this election. “Considering the news value of an event, we have given appropriate space to opposition parties too,” he said.
Devendra Bhatnagar, the state editor of Divya Bhaskar, agreed: “If you look at our coverage of political rallies in this election, we have given space to opposition parties too.”
But the editor of a leading Gujarati daily, who only agreed to be quoted on condition of anonymity, wasn’t buying this line.
“Congress and AAP’s charge of less media coverage is true to some extent,” he said. “Earlier, reporters used to be the main link between parties and media houses. They were nudged by party leaders, ‘Thoda dekh lena. Please see if we can get good coverage.’ Now, parties deal directly with owners. If a reporter does any negative story, a call goes to the owner of the paper and it is dropped.”
He added, “Media curbs are unprecedented – worse than Emergency, in fact. My kids also pose this question, ‘Dad, what are you doing?’ I can’t look in the mirror.”
Of course, there’s another way to avoid getting caught in this web. That’s to do what we do at Newslaundry, and not take ads at all, whether from governments and corporates. Read about the method to our madness here, and subscribe to Newslaundry today.
Update at 4.30 pm, Dec 7, 2022: The BJP published 72 ads, not 69, on the front and back pages of the three newspapers in the time period surveyed. This has been corrected.
A weekly guide to the best of our stories from our editors and reporters. Note: Skip if you're a subscriber. All subscribers get a weekly, subscriber-only newsletter by default.