Heard of Khushali campaign? Chances are you haven't. And that's by design, or so it appears. The campaign is being conducted by the Modi regime in the hinterlands of poll-bound Uttar Pradesh and Punjab. But quite uncharacteristically for a government that is ever eager to publicise its work, it's going about the campaign quietly.
The official machinery, in fact, describes it "one of the routine campaigns that the government's publicity wing carries out from time to time". But the people visiting the programmes are linking it directly to the upcoming assembly elections and the fallout of the currency replacement exercise.
In rural Punjab, the people are calling it "Khushali", or happiness, campaign of the Modi government. Interestingly, while the focus of the exercise is said to be empowerment of the poor, it is the issue of currency replacement that's dominating the agenda.
It was during a recent visit to rural Patiala that this reporter stumbled upon one such programme in Sanaur village. The campaign is being carried out by an outside agency to which the government has outsourced the task.
Those running the campaign disclosed that it was launched on 15 November, simultaneously in UP and Punjab. "The purpose is to cover these two states before the Election Commission of India announces the assembly polls and the model code of conduct is in place. It is a 45-day initiative," said one of the organisers of the programme at Sanaur.
There was a long line of poor farmers who had come to register with the campaign, providing their phone numbers and addresses and listing their grievances - difficulties in getting cooking gas connections, old age pensions, agricultural farm loans. "I am skeptical any benefit would come my way, but I have still registered hoping 'Mera Desh Badal Raha Hai, Aage Badh Raha Hai' and 'Achhe Din Aayenge' promises will come true," said an old farmer.
Managing note ban fallout
The organisers admitted that managing the fallout of currency replacement has become their primary task now. "Demonetisation has overshadowed the entire campaign. Now most of our effort is going into convincing people that demonetisation is good for them and would benefit them in the long run. The first question we face from almost everyone getting registered is why did the government put people in so much misery, that too at a time when they were busy with sowing wheat," said the organiser.
Are the farmers convinced by this logic? "Kal kisne dekha hai," said one farmer, unknowingly echoing JM Keynes' famous line that was quoted by former prime minister Manmohan Singh in the parliament recently:'In the long run we are all dead'.
"We want an end to our plight right now," the farmer added.
To draw more people to their programmes, the organisers are even holding competitions for children as well as the adults. "This is a pilot exercise. The government decided to run this campaign with the help of a third party. The task was outsourced because there is a shortage of staff at the Directorate of Field Publicity. Five states have been identified for the pilot project. Odisha will follow soon," said an official at the directorate who did not want to be named.
As a part of the campaign, brochures are being circulated that talk about various schemes launched by the government since Modi came to power such as Jan Dhan Yojana, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, Deen Dayal Antyodaya Yojana.
Grassroots workers of opposition parties are questioning the timing of the campaign just ahead of the polls. "They are getting forms filled for Jan Dhan Yojana on the spot along with registration for cooking gas. It is nothing but a new form of campaign by the BJP, particularly in the wake of public anger against demonetisation," said Vinod Kumar, a Congress worker.
BJP leaders in Punjab, meanwhile, claim they are unaware of any such campaign being carried out in the state.