The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led NDA government has thus far (between 2014-15 and December 2018) bought 460 million cm of advertisement space in print media, as compared to 560 million cm bought by the previous Congress-led UPA government between 2010 and 2014, numbers that government officials claim belie allegations that it has advertised a lot more than the previous government.
According to data from the government, the Congress paid Rs 1,896.73 crore while the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has so far paid Rs 2,156.22 crore.
The money spent by the NDA government is more even though the space it purchased is less because advertising rates have gone up, said a government official aware of the development, asking not to be named.
“If we were to put a value to the space that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government paid for, in term of the current rates, it works out to Rs 2,558 crore,” the official added.
To be sure, this number does not include advertising across electronic and digital media. It is likely the current government has spent more on digital media simply because the space is more evolved now than it was five years ago.
In July last year, minister of information and broadcasting Rajyavardhan Rathore told Rajya Sabha in a written reply that the government, through the bureau of outreach and communication or BOC, released 52 advertisements worth Rs 60.9442 crore in 2015-16, 142 advertisements in 2016-17 worth Rs 83.2686 crore, and 309 advertisements worth Rs 147.9600 crore in 2016-17, all publicising schemes such as the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana, Swachh Bharat Mission, Smart City Mission and Saansad Adarsh Gram Yojana.
As per the details provided to Parliament through the Bureau of Outreach and Communication, the Union government spent at least Rs 4,880 crore in advertisements across electronic, print and other media between financial year 2014-15 and July 2018. Of this, Rs 979.78 crore was spent in 2014-15; Rs 1,160.16 crore in 2015-16; Rs 1,264.26 crore in 2016-17, and Rs 1,313.57 crore in 2017-18.
A BJP leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that many of the ads released by the UPA featured the then Congress party chief, Sonia Gandhi. “In most of the advertisements issued, whether they were about the LPG scheme or old age pension, Sonia Gandhi’s photograph was carried in addition to that of the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh,” this person added.
The Congress dismissed the government’s claims. Former minister for information and broadcasting Manish Tewari said, “No amount of chicanery or spin can cover up the reality of cold numbers. The NDA has outspent its predecessors.” Tewari also said the photographs of Gandhi were carried in her capacity as an “elected chairperson of the UPA government”. “Unlike them [the BJP] we are not a single, individual-centric party,” he said.