Look who’s dialling

Welfare benefits from UPA’s BPL phone scheme may be marginal,but it has political possibilities

Written by The Indian Express | Published: August 9, 2012 3:42:45 am

Let’s give the UPA a hand for finally working up the nerve to reach out to the people. This government has been so remote that the anti-corruption movement could seize the no-man’s-land it left untended and attempt a siege. It couldn’t possibly go all touchy-feely now,but with its Rs 7,000 crore welfare proposal to hand out mobile phones to 6 lakh BPL families,it at least appears to be preparing to talk its way to power in 2014. If all goes according to UPA plan,the proposed “har haath mein phone” project could build on the electoral goodwill generated by employment guarantees. Besides,with a captive phone system,the UPA could talk directly to an important section of the electorate that is inadequately reached by political communications.

But this is no innovation. In the last election,the NDA had aggressively campaigned via mobile phones,using recorded messages from its top leadership. More recently,the anti-corruption movement used mobile telephony to coordinate its protests,deploying the techniques of flash mob activism on a large scale. The UPA is simply taking the idea a step forward. Instead of targeting existing mobile users,it wants to create a whole new target audience. With its modern ring,“har haath mein phone” is an improvement over slogans from the last election like the dated “Congress ke dono haath,garibon ke saath” and the perfectly dreadful “Aam aadmi ke badhte kadam,har kadam par Bharat buland”. Of course,the ethics of this project are ambivalent,since it will be funded by the taxpayer’s money. The government could consider clarifying that it would not monopolise political communications on this new channel.

Thanks to the mobile revolution,while not everyone has a phone in hand,almost everyone does have a phone within reach. In the villages,phones are shared and even the classic leave application,“Mother serious come quick”,is no longer sent by telegram but a phone call. The welfare quotient of the UPA’s project is marginal compared with the political benefits,which include the possibility of leaving behind the embarrassment of the 2G scam by showing off a welfare measure that uses telecom.

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