Indian campaign material keeps up with the times

March 15th, 2009 - 12:40 pm ICT by IANS  

By Shweta Srinivasan
New Delhi, March 15 (IANS) Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Vijay Goel remembers the days when his family and fellow party workers made posters, flags and other campaign material with their bare hands. “It’s all commercial now,” he scoffs.

From cloth to polyester, from handmade to digital designs, from graffiti to handbills, campaign material in India has indeed come a long way.

“Earlier a lot of effort was involved in making publicity material. Flags used to be stitched from cotton cloth, single colour printing was done on them. Now there is designing equipment, computers and four-colour printing,” says Abdul Gaffar Ansari, who runs a flag manufacturing unit in Sadar Bazaar in north Delhi.

With the country set for another mammoth poll exercise in April-May, the Election Commission has set strict dos and don’ts to political parties to be followed during campaigning.

Restrictions have been imposed by several states on using plastics and sticking publicity material. The use of plastics in campaign material has also been curbed by the Election Commission for environmental reasons.

So unlike the usual spectrum of blow-ups of politicians, banners with catchphrases and miles of fluttering flags, campaigning for these general elections will hugely rely on handbills and pamphlets.

“This time among all publicity material, the main role is of handbills,” A.K. Walia, Congress leader and Delhi’s finance minister, told IANS.

“Posters and banners are not being allowed. Using flags and hoardings is restricted to major functions and rallies. So demand for these is bound to go down.”

A party’s campaign material is very significant as it aims to stand out in terms of colour, design and other gimmicks. Some highlight symbols of the party, like the Congress “hand” or the BJP “lotus”, while in others, catchphrases are highlighted.

“The pamphlets and handbills will be printed by various associations of our party and distributed to as many houses and communities by party workers and volunteers,” Walia said.

Ansari said: “With the ban on posters and other publicity material, our business is not booming. There is more dependence on handbills and pamphlets.”

After all, digital designing and printing on plastic mix and polyester have over the years reduced production cost by 20 to 30 percent, he said. “Polyester and plastic have been used in huge amounts,” said Ansari, who has been in the business for 40 years.

BJP’s Goel feels that handbills and pamphlets will have to be used judiciously and in large numbers for campaigning to overcome the handicap of not using posters and banners.

“Till the last elections all sorts of publicity stunts were allowed but this time we can’t paste posters, put up banners or hoardings. Now only pamphlets and handbills will describe our views to the masses,” Goel said.

But all agree that campaign material is crucial.

“Without publicity material there is no awareness. Common people know very little about politics, what a party stands for, its promises. The material is important because without it, people don’t feel that elections are going to happen,” said Walia.

And the political leaders still recall the good old ways of campaigning.

“There have been lots of changes in campaigning. My father contested in 1964 - back then there were single colour leaflets. We used a stencil to print posters,” said Goel, who was a member of the 11th, 12th and 13th Lok Sabha from Chandni Chowk, Delhi.

“When the Jana Sangh (the BJP’s predecessor) fought elections, I remember my mother would stitch cloth flags and I used to paint the party symbol of the earthen lamp,” he said with nostalgia.

“There were handwritten banners back then that needed months of preparation. Now thousands are printed a minute,” Goel said. “Everything is now readymade.”

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