Image makeover for political parties ahead of UP polls

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Lucknow:  In journalism school, the first thing a student learns is often Marshal McLuhans famous line - the medium is the message. In political schools too, especially Uttar Pradesh (UP) style, McLuhan's advice is being taken very seriously. At a time when it is its make or break for political parties in the upcoming UP elections, political parties in the state are looking for an image makeover and this task has been handed to ad gurus and deft spin doctors.

Chief Minister and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati has hired a public relations (PR) firm to sell her party to the voters. The coverage of her rallies is now outsourced to private event management companies. She is also learning how to strike the right pose, to ensure her enigma flows through the giant screens at her rallies. Screens giant enough, perhaps, to match her ambitions.

However, the UP Chief Minister, known for her iron fist, has gone beyond a cosmetic exercise. She has denied tickets to more than 50 sitting MLAs of her party, including 16 top ministers who have been shown the door.

Avdhesh Kumar Verma, a former BSP Minister who is a victim of Mayawati's operation cleanup, broke into tears while addressing a rally in Shahjahanpur. "Someone who I treated like a parent is punishing me without even letting me know what I have done wrong," Mr Verma was heard saying amidst his sobs.

Many of these rejected MLAs are heading to other parties in search for that suddenly elusive election ticket.

Former Labour minister Badshah Singh and till recently close Mayawati aide Babu Singh Kushwaha joined the BJP on Tuesday after being given the pink slip by the BSP supremo for being non-performers.

However, there are no takers for other candidates like D P Yadav who enjoyed immense political clout despite facing serious criminal charges.
Akhilesh yadav, Samajwadi Party (SP) President and son of Mulayam Singh Yadav told NDTV that his party "will not take in tainted people from Bahujan Samaj Party and there are no talks right now."

In fact, the image makeover for SP goes beyond giving tickets to 'clean' candidates.

The party has asked its candidates have been asked not to attend flashy weddings, which can catch the Election Commission's attention. They have also been warned against convoys of more than eight cars and raising the party flag without permission.

While the Congress is projecting brand Rahul, the BJP is treading cautiously. The failed 'India Shining' campaign of 2004 continues to haunt the party, especially because Rahul Gandhi referred to it many a times during his recent rallies in the state.

Much has changed since the last elections in the state. And while Mayawati comes on the back of an absolute mandate, her party's image seems to be more important than the achievements of the past five years.

Uttar Pradesh goes to polls in seven phases from February 4 to February 28.

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