‘BJP ads in response to Congress charges carried government logo'

“Sir, you are tough, and I am tough,” wrote Nobel laureate Joseph Brodsky inTo a Fellow Poet, “ But who will write whose epitaph?” In Chhattisgarh, what began as rhyming repartee between the Opposition Congress and the ruling BJP in advertisements printed in the local newspapers has culminated in allegations that the government misused State funds to settle political scores.

Earlier this month, ‘well-wishers' of Chhattisgarh Congress president Nandkumar Patel marked his birthday by releasing a series of advertisements in the form of verses that mocked the government's record on a variety of issues, including a recent botched health camp that left at least 30 people partially blind.

The next day, local papers carried a series of rhyming replies directed at the Congress, the only problem being that they carried the logo and ‘R.O. number' of ‘Samvad' — the State department for public relations. ‘R.O. number' is shorthand for the unique ‘Release Order Number' associated with every advertisement released and paid for by the government.

The ensuing brouhaha resulted in the newspapers issuing a clarification claiming that the advertisements ‘R.O. numbers' had been mistakenly attributed to the government instead of the private individuals who had allegedly paid for them.

Congress spokesperson Shailesh Trivedi has written to the Press Council of India, describing the advertisements as an instance of “paid news” and asking for an enquiry into the matter.

“This matter is of particular concern as Chief Minister Raman Singh personally oversees the press relations department and the department is headed by his principal secretary N. Baijendra Kumar,” said Mr. Trivedi in a letter written in Hindi, adding that more than one newspaper had carried an advertisement with the same R.O. number, indicating that Samvad had indeed paid for the space in the papers, and that newspapers had been pressured into issuing an apology to protect the government. “The government ceases to give advertisements to newspapers which do not publish news in accordance with the government's wishes,” Mr. Trivedi alleged.

Mr. Baijendra Kumar has described the allegations as “rubbish,” in a telephonic conversation with this correspondent. “No government money has been used to pay for these advertisements,” he said, “The newspapers have already carried apologies and clarifications.” When asked how two separate newspapers made the same mistake and carried the same R.O. numbers, he claimed that the R.O. numbers corresponded to other advertisements released by the government on the same day. “The papers have said it was a human error by their computer operators who mistakenly put the Samvad name and R.O. number,” said Mr. Kumar.