Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is not new to controversy. Several have alleged the AAP to be a publicity-driven outfit. However, the accusations have only increased in the lead up to Punjab Assembly Elections 2017. AAP has been accused of indulging in wasteful government expenditure in the form of advertisements published with the intention of wooing voters in Punjab.
Earlier in February, AAP had published full-page advertorials in Punjabi and Hindi newspapers of the state. These advertisements categorically listed the achievements of Kejriwal’s government. Predictably, the Congress party was miffed. They questioned the need for advertising what had been done by the Delhi government in Punjab. The grand old party reasoned that such a thing was being done to influence the voters in Punjab.
Quoting a source in Congress’s Public Relations Department, The Indian Express reported, “There is no logic in the Delhi government’s achievements being highlighted in the Chandigarh edition newspapers, especially those in Punjabi and Hindi. It is clearly to target voters for the Punjab assembly polls in 2017.” At that time, the Congress had vowed to find out how much Kejriwal & Co. had spent on the advertisements.
However, that didn’t deter AAP from carrying on with the advertising onslaught. In early June, they published full-page advertisements announcing its decision of appointing one Punjabi language teacher in every school. Higher wages were also promised to the teachers. These advertisements too led to furious responses.
Both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress lashed out at the Delhi government. While BJP leader Vijay Goel stated that the Aam Aadmi Party was using the tax payer’s money to win elections in Punjab, Congress’s Ajay Maken also launched a spirited attack against Aam Aadmi Party.
Later in a television interview, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley also criticised AAP’s advertising blitzkrieg. He sought to know “why the odd-even scheme advertisements” were “appearing in Chennai newspapers in Hindi.” Going further, Jaitley lamented that the Delhi government was using advertising expenditure to win friends and silence critics in the media.
Legally speaking, AAP might still find itself sailing in a calm sea. “So far in my opinion, there is nothing that prevents a sitting Chief Minister from advertising his/her achievements in newspapers of other states,” said Mrinal Pande, former Chairperson, Prasar Bharati. She pointed out that other Chief Ministers including Akhilesh Yadav, J Jayalalitha and Mamata Banerjee had been actively placing advertisements in national newspapers.
She emphasized that only the Election Commission had the power to clampdown on such electioneering once the model code of conduct is applicable following the announcement of election dates.
Differing views were offered by VK Chopra. “The taxes have been given by Delhi state voters. Arvind Kejriwal is exploiting them. He is misusing the funds by publishing advertisements for political purposes in Punjab,” said Chopra, Chief Patron, Delhi Advertising Club.
When questioned whether Aam Aadmi Party had succeeded in establishing itself as a credible brand, Chopra stated that it would be unfair to compare the past with the present. He reasoned that AAP took advantage of people’s dissatisfaction with the Congress. Highlighting the incumbent government’s keenness for publicity, he mentioned that the current regime had come up with an advertising agency of its own in the form of Shabdarth.
Commenting on Delhi government’s ads, Baljit Singh Brar, Editor of Punjab Times, stated that governments should refrain from using public money for political mileage. “Parties should spend on advertising themselves. There should be no wastage of taxpayer’s money,” said Brar.
He further revealed that Delhi government’s advertisements were published in select newspapers. “I have only seen advertisements in The Tribune and Ajit Punjabi,” he added. Brar claimed that AAP shelled as much as Rs 2.5 lakh on full page advertisements though the ads did not have enough matter to occupy the whole page.
He also alleged that the state’s leading newspaper Punjab Kesari did not receive any advertisements from AAP because of their critical coverage of the party. The newspaper has since sharpened its attack on the newfound political outfit.