March 11, 2019 / 7:45 AM / in 13 days

Modi government advertising blitz dries up as Indian poll rules kick in

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - An advertising blitz by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration, which saw more than 150 newspaper ads in the past 10 days lauding its performance, stopped on Monday, a day after the schedule for the next general election was announced.

FILE PHOTO: India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits the National Cemetery in Seoul, South Korea, February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/File Photo

The election will be held over seven stages from April 11, the Election Commission said on Sunday, when the code of conduct on election campaigning came into force. That includes a ban on ads in electronic and print media highlighting government achievements and paid for with public funds, the commission said.

Leading English-language national dailies including the Times of India, the Hindustan Times and the Indian Express carried no government ads on Monday.

The New Delhi editions of those three newspapers had 162 government ads between March 1 and March 10, according to Reuters calculations. Of those, 93 were full page.

Most featured a picture of Modi and highlighted government initiatives from rural development and solar power to airport infrastructure and social security benefits, among others.

One of the full-page ads highlighted 12 achievements in different sectors, saying it was “putting farmers first” and “national security is top priority”.

The Directorate of Advertising & Visual Publicity, a government agency that coordinates with ministries on government ads, said on Monday that “no advertisements highlighting the government’s achievements have been issued to any newspaper across the country”, in line with election rules.

A spokesman for the agency did not comment on how much money the government had spent on ads recently.

Modi’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Some people had expressed frustration on Twitter with what they saw as the excessive advertising.

One user, Dhruv Rathee, tweeted a video last week in which he flipped pages of the Times of India newspaper and said: “Every page you turn has Modi’s face on it”. The video received nearly 82,000 views.

Another, Shashank Rajak, said: “It’s so much annoying to read newspapers these days ... Do we really need all this nonsense? Pure waste of OUR money.”

Modi faces growing anger about a shortage of jobs and weak farm prices. However, he is expected to get a popularity boost from his decision to send warplanes into Pakistan to attack an alleged militant site after a Pakistan-based group claimed a suicide bombing last month that killed 40 Indian paramilitary police in Kashmir.

Reporting by Aditya Kalra and Alasdair Pal; Edited by Martin Howell, Nick Macfie and Frances Kerry

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