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J&K poll: Of PR agents and private detectives

By A Correspondent in Delhi
October 23, 2008 16:19 IST
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Former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah's attempt to hire a public relations agency for a high-tech election campaign in the upcoming assembly elections has been shot down by National Conference second generation leaders led by his son and party president Omar Abdullah.

Instead of opposing his father's plan personally, Omar let loose other leaders to assert that such a campaign may prove counter-productive.

Dr Farooq Abdullah, who is now patron of the party his late father Sheikh Abdullah had founded, quietly retracted the proposal. A Delhi-based PR agency had given a presentation to NC leaders in Srinagar on Monday on the proposed campaign which included an image makeover of its leaders and candidates.

Dr Abdullah agreed with the younger leaders that the exuberant price would be "wasteful expenditure." The youngsters had asserted that the party's local activists have ears firmly on ground and know pulse of the voters. Calling an outside agency would not change the party's fortunes.

The same agency was earlier hired by then Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh. The campaign with slogans coined by the agency and a media blitzkrieg, however, failed to halt the march of the Akali-BJP combine to oust the Congress from power.

In its presentation, the agency had sought to launch an 'e-campaign' to target the 'new generation voters' using music television channels, FM radio, mobile phones and e-mail to spread the NC's message.

The NC leaders who overruled the campaign contended that the new media was still in a nascent stage in Kashmir. Moreover, they pointed out that such campaigns have miserably failed in India, and cited for example the abundant use of the technology by deceased BJP leader Pramod Mahajan in the last Lok Sabha elections that did not help the BJP-led NDA.

PR companies are now routinely hired by political parties, including the Congress and BJP, offer an array of services, ranging from media interactions, organising press conferences, meetings with prominent persons of the area, electronic presentations and providing professional advice to candidates on how to conduct themselves.

Meanwhile, the Congress is believed to have hired a private detective agency to help it select the right candidates, by checking on their credentials and potential to win.

After a preliminary list of the probables was made by the state's Congress leaders, the names were forwarded to the detective agency to get a complete background check. "We are trying to select candidates not on caste considerations but purely on merit and winnability through this exercise," a Congress leader said.

Kunwar Vikram Singh, chairman of the Association of Private Detectives and Investigators, says not only the Congress party but other political parties were also hiring private detective agencies to verify antecedents of their candidates and dig out minus points of rival parties.


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A Correspondent in Delhi