India’s political advertising goofs: sometimes they’re just mistakes

November 26, 2012

Whenever anything happens in India, anything at all, you will find someone on Twitter muttering with suspicion about how it was a political conspiracy. What for? Votes, power, money, the usual. Nobody seems to be able to accept the idea that people sometimes just goof up, that cluelessness trumps deceit and a desire to irk other people.

It’s not like there is no evidence for this simple, if inelegant explanation. Look at the cabinet reshuffle this past October, when Minister of State Lalchand Kataria’s induction in the defence ministry was put on hold after confusion over names in the final list.

Personally, I love then-Foreign Minister SM Krishna’s goof-up at the United Nations Security Council when he accidentally read the Portuguese foreign minister’s speech.

And look at these advertisements…

The Bharatiya Janata Party came down hard on the Gujarat Congress Party on Monday after Congress ran an election campaign ad on malnutrition. It included a picture of a child who apparently was a victim of floods in Sri Lanka. Congress said that the BJP should concentrate on the issue, not the picture, while the ruling party called Congress “desperate”. That would work, but only if whoever prepared the ad knew that the kid was from Sri Lanka, and decided to dupe people. More often than not, people think that representative images are good enough to get the point across, and then don’t understand why they aren’t.  That’s not desperate; it’s just clueless.

Here is some Twitter reaction:

@sunandavashisht – Shameless Congress-Malnutrition child of Srilankan floods shown as Gujarati child in ad campaign against BJP#shamecongress

@ShivAroor – Congress ad on malnourishment in Gujarat shows a child who is actually a flood victim in Sri Lanka. Serious issue. Moronic execution.

Here are some more examples of the goofy kind:

  • The BJP erred in 2010 when the Gujarat government-sponsored ad, “Muslims in Gujarat”, showed pictures of girls who were from the state of Uttar Pradesh. The photo showed Muslim girls working on computers, an attempt to promote the idea that Muslims are well treated in Gujarat. The picture, according to reports, came from a U.S.-based news portal run by Indian Muslims.
  • In 2012, the same girls appeared in a Rajasthan government ad. This time the ad said: “We are proud of being Rajasthani”.
  • In 2010, then-Railways Minister Mamata Banerjee was embarrassed after an Eastern Railways ad showed Delhi in Pakistan and Kolkata in the Bay of Bengal.
  •  In the same year, the Ministry of Women and Child Development published an ad called, “Where would you be if your mother was not allowed to be born?” on the occasion of National Girl Child Day. That’s all fine, except for the presence of a picture of former Pakistan Air Force chief in the ad. The Indian officials were not amused.
  • The BJP government in Karnataka was embarrassed after a ‘Karnataka Shining’ ad in 2010 carried a picture of a farmer who killed himself in 2009. Here’s how an official reacted, according to reports: “Its not an embarrassment, I don’t want to give any comments, farmers committing suicide is a universal thing and its not new to Karnataka.” Clueless.
  • The BJP also picked a copyrighted photograph for one of their pro-farmer advertisements, thereby violating the law.


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