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Jagan Reddy’s rule: Do good election campaigns make good public policy?

by Staff
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Noam Chomsky popularly observed in 2004,

“It is important to bear in mind that political campaigns are designed by the same people who sell toothpaste and cars.”

A political campaign is an exercise in communication. As such, it has the scope to borrow lessons from marketing campaigns. However, the quote is not just about the similarities between campaigns, but also about the nature of manipulation associated with marketing. Owing to vigorous election campaigns recently finished in different states in the country, it is pertinent to observe if the goals of an election campaign might actually suit the goals of a traditional public policy.

In the contest of politics of Andhra Pradesh, this short article will compare the manifestos of YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) – whose successful campaign was conceptualized by IPAC in the 2019 Andhra Pradesh Assembly and General elections, and All India Trinamool Congress (AITMC) – whose campaign is being managed by IPAC for the 2021 West Bengal Assembly elections. The aim of the comparison is to observe the welfare of YSRCP and its trade-offs in terms of winning the election against framing the public policy. AITMC is chosen, owing to the comprehensiveness of its election promises.

While comparing the manifestos, it is an easy criticism that the context of the states, party images, demography of voters, local issues, and so on, might be different. Nevertheless, the aim is to see the nature of promises made by YSR Congress Party to attract voters owing to the basic issues that matter to people across states.

Availability of data has sharpened the cutting edge in political campaigns. With more data, competition demands political parties to finetune their strategies, and target voters better. While it made the competition more rigorous, it also demanded a voter-centric public policy than a citizen-centric public policy. Jaganmohan Reddy proposed a miracle in Andhra Pradesh in 2019 to get to power. Navaratnalu were communicated well to the voters, and coupled with the ‘One Chance’ appeal of Jagan, people believed a miracle might happen as well. The practicality of such an out and out welfare policy was to be tested, and people took the risk of taking a chance.

The following table shows a comparison of promises to address similar themes between both the parties:

Theme YSRCP’s Navaratnalu in the manifesto for 2019 Assembly and General elections TMC’s 10 Ongikar in the manifesto for 2021 Assembly elections
Youth All fees of poor college students will be taken care of by the government. In addition to the fee reimbursement, free food, and hostel facility, Rs 20 thousand per year will be allotted for financially backward students. To make Bengal’s youth self-reliant, Student Credit Cards with a credit limit up to ₹10 lakh at an interest rate of 4% will be issued.
Welfare cash transfers SC, ST, BC, and minority ladies above 60 years will get a monthly pension of 3000 (increased in phases), and women above 45 years of age will get a sum of 75,000 years from respective corporations set up for the purpose. A new scheme to ensure monthly Basic Income support to female heads of 1.6 Crore households of Bengal- monthly ₹500 to families of General Category (Yearly ₹6,000) and ₹1,000 to families of SC/ST (Yearly ₹12,000)
Governance One volunteer for every 50 houses will be appointed to look after the delivery of schemes to people. Rs 5000 per month will be paid to the volunteer’s services. New facility under Khadya Sathi – No need to go to the ration shop anymore. Free doorstep delivery of monthly ration to 1.5 crore households.
Farmers ₹50,000 will be allotted to each farmer. The sum will be credited to the farmer’s accounts – Rs 12,500 will be given in the month of May every year for 4 years. ₹10,000 per acre support to be provided to 68 lakh small and marginal farmers every year under the Krishak Bandhu Scheme.
 

Employment

Along with filling up 2 lakh vacant positions in the state, every year government jobs calendar will be unveiled on 1st January. Additional 10 lakh MSMEs to be added every year to increase the total number of functional MSME units to 1.5 cr.
Health Arogya Sri Card will be valid in any of the places in Hyderabad, Bangalore, Chennai, etc cities. Medical College-cum-Super Speciality Hospital in all 23 district headquarters.
Education Every mother who is sending their children to school will get Rs 15000 per year as an appreciation from the government. Each block to have at least one Model Residential School.
Housing In the span of 5 years, 25 lakh pakka houses will be allotted 25 lakh additional low-cost houses to be built under Bangla Awas Yojana in rural areas and 5 lakh additional low-cost houses to be built under in urban areas

In one of the interviews with Karan Thapar, India’s most popular political consultant Prashant Kishor observes that the message and the messenger are equally important during campaigns. Borrowing from the image of his father late YS Rajashekar Reddy, Jaganmohan Reddy successfully branded himself as someone who can take care of the state as the head of a family. IPAC executed 35 campaigns, touched 1 crore households, and reached up to 4.8 crore people. A total of up to 100 crore impressions were created as per their website. The overwhelming majority in both assembly and the parliament proves the success of the campaign. Jagan, the messenger, was a treat for people to watch. His oration was second to none, and campaign events were filled with drama. However, the purposes served by good branding need not essentially serve the purposes of a good public policy.

AITMC’s manifesto is a mix of public spending on infrastructure as well as cash transfers. Though lesser compared to what Jagan promised, the manifesto also proposes a Basic Income Support to up to 1.6 crore households with all women from SC/ST communities covered. Nevertheless, one of the vital differences between YSRCP and AITMC is that the former was a challenger, while the latter is a defender. As a challenger, YSRCP took the campaign as an end in itself. It is easy to observe that the promises of AITMC appear more holistic in terms of assuring a traditional public policy, while YSRCP has promised nothing but cash transfers and housing benefits, in other words, a miracle of a government. All vital areas of the debate were commercialized. Jagan’s proposal appears more like a negotiation with the voters for power than any real plans for development, or progress. It is just about redistribution of incomes across people, then enlarging the economic pie.

If you said Health, the party said ArogyaSri. If you said Education, the party promised cash transfers in the name of incentivizing enrolment- Amma Vodi. These cash transfers cannot be expected to bring any sustainable social change than commercializing systems further in the free market. As such, uncritical commercialization furthers social inequities. One can observe the most referred OXFAM reports for evidence. Ironically, by targeted cash transfers, YSRCP is also being reasonably successful in branding itself as a champion of social justice. Funds are micro-targeted through corporations established. For instance, there are 56 BC corporations announced by the government to track if funds are being targeted to many communities within the BCs. Essentially, marketing companies also do their best in making believe their products can make a difference in the lives of consumers.

Perhaps Andhra Pradesh is seeing the most welfare, any state in India has ever seen. There is no talk about infrastructure, nor is there any talk about improving public spending on Education and Health. The government claims that almost every poor citizen is receiving benefits from the government. Opposition is silenced through reckless satire and rowdyism, than through debate.

Despite price rise, lack of focus on private investment, and any respect towards a holistic public policy, the success of YSRCP rule in Andhra Pradesh would mean a blatant trade-off happening between the people and the ruler, for power. It means people are satisfied when the ruler says: ‘Give me power, we would send you money.’ Failure of it would mean people of Andhra Pradesh believe the public policy is more than a mere trade-off for power. It could also mean they perceive public policy to be a tool for real social change.

Success or failure of the YSRCP government would be a measure of the expectations people have from the government. It is a measure of the ability of marketing campaigns to manipulate the expectations of people. It is also a measure of the social consciousness of the people of Andhra Pradesh.

 

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