BJP's optimistic election agenda

Soon after Virender Sehwag, aka as Najafgarh (a Delhi locality)‘s Nawab, completed his triple ton against Pakistan in the first Test at Multan on Monday, a text message started doing the rounds of Delhi and then spread further. It said: "Sehwag ke 309 run ki tarah, hum bhi 300 seat payenge (like Sehwag‘s 309 runs, we will also bag 300 Parliamentary seats in the forthcoming elections)."

Though a bit optimistic, there‘s no doubt that the political SMS message was sent out by supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led coalition government in India. Realising that cricket is the mantra of the day, the media managers of the BJP were quick to cash in on the cricket fervour too.

This is an indicator to the body language, to use a sporting lingo, of the BJP and its allies, in sharp contrast to its main rival, the Congress Party, which has been more reactive than pro-active in its media and communication strategy. As an aide of senior BJP leader Pramod Mahajan, one of the media managers and spin doctors of the party, puts it, "We don‘t know about the Congress, but our media strategy has been in planning for quite some time now. Even before the elections were announced."

No wonder, people in the party have been busy coining catchy one-liners for leaders and advertising campaigns for months now in anticipation of the elections.

Sample some: Lakshya Atal, vote kamal (the target is PM Atal B Vajpayee and vote lotus, the party symbol) and Atal aur vikas, bharat ka vishwas (Atal and development are the beliefs of India).

Sample this...

And it is not just catchy headlines that is a part of the strategy, which, like a giant tree, has been etched out to hog space in almost all conceivable areas. From the traditional to the modern, for the techno-savvy to the technologically-challenged, from the upper crust of the populace to the lowest, BJP‘s media strategy spares none and, almost, nothing.

Points out Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, one of the general secretaries in the BJP and a party spokesperson, "The whole idea is to communicate our messages more efficiently and effectively to the maximum number of people through a variety of platforms."

On its part, BJP is planning to reach out to 150 million voters through e-campaign, comprising e-mails, telephones (both fixed and mobile), new web site Mission2004, apart from TV and radio and cinema halls.

That is why apart from the print medium and outdoor, where a government-sponsored India Shining campaign has already has its run, television is also a possible target with some meticulous planning going in to as what the campaigns should be and highlight - PM‘s meetings, achievements of the government, the angle about prosperity (economy booming as also the stock market), success in foreign affairs with Pakistan being a cornerstone. The Indian cricket team‘s performance, till now, has certainly helped the party too.

Though some campaigns for the TV medium have been shot, reportedly by Lintas in association with Team Mahajan, a full-fledged onslaught is yet to be seen on the electronic medium for the simple reason that the guidelines on this are still not clear. Surrogate ads on some TV channels have not helped the matter much, but only vitiated the atmosphere further.

But despite the uncertainty, BJP believes in keeping its act ready to unveil at the first opportunity. That‘s why some TV channels, including entertainment and music channels, have been sounded out without the actual release orders for ads being released. Even the South Indian channels not have been overlooked totally.

Since the elections are being held in phases, the TV campaigns especially too had been planned in several phases with the first one scheduled to get off the block sometime in April. But that would depend on the outcome of a controversy relating to surrogate ads making direct attacks on Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Vajpayee. As part of the first phase, some films on leadership and one the national highway project (one of the dream projects of PM) have been kept ready.

A typical film, which would also be shown on various video vans that would tour the interiors of the country where the presence of cable TV is not very strong, goes something like this: The clips would show Indian ministers of the 1980s (when Congress ruled the country) going abroad and then asking for help in the form of foodgrains. Cut to 2002 when foreign countries‘ representatives are shown coming to India seeking help. The message: Sound and booming economy under the BJP-led coalition government.

"We had plans of going on air on news channels, mass channels, apart from different films for youth on channels such as MTV and Channel [V]. We also had planned cosmetic presence on southern channels," says Sudhanshu Mittal, a member of Team Mahajan.

But here too some inputs from various people have gone in. The BJP feels that using just the satellite channels would not serve the purpose as they would "cover only between 30-35 per cent of the total population." Explains Naqvi, "This time cinema halls would also be used as a delivery mechanism and some 200-odd halls have been identified for screening of party campaigns. If Doordarshan is allowed to accept political ads, it would only add to the reach of the TV."

‘Yuva Shakti‘ - Says who???

The catchy slogans, target platforms and themes like ‘Stree Shakti‘ (depicting party‘s women power in the form of Sushma Swaraj and chief ministers like Vasundhara Raje Scindia and Uma Bharti), ‘Yuva Shakti‘ (the Young Turks of the party like Arun Jaitley, Naqvi and ministers in the outgoing government like Pratap Singh Rudy and Shahnawaz Khan) all point to the fact that BJP is making a conscious effort to keep pace with time and acquire new followers and supporters, especially the youth.

As a senior advertising professionals feels that BJP is focusing on the ‘choice of the new generation‘ image, drifting away from ‘the party of the business class‘ image. Film and TV stars, past and present, being just props for the mega-star and brand of the party - PM Vajpayee.

Pointing out that film stars, who have joined the party are committed, information and broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said, "The real star is Atalji, followed by the likes of Advaniji." Prasad has been instrumental in bringing to the party fold singers like Kumar Shanu.

Though the party media managers would like to take most of the credit for the savvy and sometime, catchy one-liners, definitely there is professional help at hand. Agencies like Graphic Ads, Crayons and a Mumbai-based video film and publicity company are lending their services to the party where some mega bucks are to be made. There are talks about Lintas too being involved, but talked about in a hush-hush manner.

So, what are the media budgets? With a straight face Naqvi would have us believe that it‘s sufficient without being extravagant. Is it around one billion rupees as reported in the media? "I must point out that media speculations on the BJP‘s advertising and media budget have put figures on the higher side," he says, adding, more helpfully, the total budget is still to be finalised as the party‘s state units have separate budgets for such activities and "the state figures have not come in yet."

Still, a source in Team Mahajan points out that the NDA-alliance has deliberately marked limited budgets for areas where its partner had been traditionally strong. For example, in Andhra Pradesh, BJP does not have to spend much as its ally, the Telugu Desam Party of Chandrababu Naidu, is strong and is spending a huge amount on election-related publicity activities.

But media professionals are a bit skeptical about the usage of interactive and Internet mediums, considering the danger of junk emails and flurry of messages on mobiles. Considering the fact that such strategy might result in intrusion, there is a feeling that cellular operators might go in for such deals only if "coerced" as there is danger of crossing the ‘permission marketing‘ approach. Something that has come to the fore with cellular customers getting taped messages - and protesting too - from the PM greeting them by saying, "Namaskar, mein Atal Behari Vajpayee bol rahan hoon.. (Greetings, I am Atal Behari Vajpayee speaking)."

However, that has not stopped the BJP from pulling out almost all the stops. As Naqvi aptly sums up: "This time we‘d fight the elections from the sky (through satellite channels) as also on the ground."

(Additional reporting by RITESH GUPTA)

(This is the second installment in our series on media and communication strategy of political parties for the forthcoming elections.)

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