It came, as thunder bolts do these days, not because of the efforts of your favourite newspaper or news anchor. It came through the exertions of an ordinary citizen, who, when he dredges up information journalists should be doing, is called an RTI activist.
And it said that the government of Narendra Modi had spent Rs 37,540,623,616 crore between May 2014 and October 2017 on advertising itself in newspapers, TV channels, radio, SMSes, and outdoor publicity.
Soak that in: Rs 3,755 crore.
Or 3755 followed by seven zeroes.
Id est Rs 37,550,000,000.
Since Arun Jaitley has not written a blog or addressed a press conference to refute the numbers—so far—there is an official seal on it.
In other words, Modi Sarkar has spent approximately Rs 30 to tell each one of the “sava sau karod” (125 crore) citizens what a great leader he has been compared to the previous one, and what an unbelievable government his has been.
The bad news about this good news is: do not expect to see the Rs 15 lakh that he promised in your bank account soon.
You will only receive Rs 14,99,970.
One news agency report quickly showed that the same government had spent Rs 56.8 crore for pollution abatement. And a health reporter tweeted that Rs 3,755 crore was more than the entire Rs 2,000 budget to combat HIV.
As it so happens with stories of this nature, they no longer make it to the 9 pm debates, and barely get a passing mention in the next day’s papers. Because that was the primary aim of the Rs 3,755 crore adspend: to buy silence while manufacturing consent.
So, what else could Narendra Modi have done with Rs 3,755 crore?
# The ‘chaiwallah’ could have bought at least 6 cups of chai (priced at Rs 5 each) for each one of India’s 125 crore citizens.
# Or underwritten the cost of breakfast (Rs 5), lunch (Rs 10) and dinner (Rs 10) for India’s entire population at an Indira Canteen in Bangalore for one day—and some more.
# Educated 5,531,820 (or 5.5 million students) at the primary school level (at Rs 6,788 per child) for a year, or given technical and professional education to 597,539 students (at Rs 62,841).
# Provided 195,572,916 or 19.5 crore mandays of labour for unskilled and unemployed people under the MNREGA scheme at the notified rate for Gujarat of Rs 192 per day.
# Happily allowed Parliament to be stalled for 1,877 days (at the rate of Rs 2 crore per day), or approximately the entire duration of the next Lok Sabha, i.e. five years.
# Raised the election expenditure limit from Rs 40 lakh to Rs 6.9 crore for all 543 members of the Lok Sabha.
# Gifted 873 millionaires a Narendra Modi monogrammed suit which was previously auctioned at Rs 4.3 crore. Or given 25,000 lakhpatis a pair of Bulgari glasses (at Rs 15,000 each).
# Built a 417 km-long four-lane national highway between Nagpur and Indore, at a cost of Rs 9 crore per kilometre. Or doubled the Mysore-Bangalore railway four more times, at Rs 875 crore.
# Bought 133,917 Tata Nano cars (made in Gujarat) XE model, or 118,000 Tata Nano cars, XM model.
# Or, bought 2 Rafale aircraft at the price of Rs 1,570 crore he negotiated, or 7 Rafale aircraft that the UPA negotiated for ‘desh ki suraksha’.
# Purchased 245,424,836 or approximately 24 crore shares in Gautambhai’s listed sunrise company Adani Enterprises Ltd. Or 40,993,449 or approximately 4 crore) shares in Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries Limited.
# Bid for the world’s most expensive artwork (which sold for $450 million), and with some Rs 8,581,250,000 to spare, bought 497,744 pieces of the Movado Edge watch (priced at Rs 58,200) that he wears.
# Rented 30,040,000 sq ft of retail space for a month (or 25 lakh sq ft for a year) at India’s most expensive piece of real estate, Khan Market in Delhi.
# Or bought 45 houses of the Rs 82 crore PayTM honcho Vijay Shekhar Sharma bought in New Delhi’s Golf Links locality, seven months after “Financial Pokhran” also known as demonetisation.
# Produced eight more episodes of ‘Bahubali I’ and ‘Bahubali II’, which together reputedly cost Rs 450 crore.
# Helped find 751 more “50 crore ka girlfriend” for Shashi Tharoor.
Of course, the Congress and Samajawadi Party and AIADMK and various other parties are not innocent of the charge of squandering taxpayers’ money similarly.
But that’s whataboutery territory.