The Bihar assembly elections have brought unexpected windfall to FM stations in Nepal, the quake-ravaged and violence-hit northern neighbour that shares a 750km border with the state.
Poll aspirants were keeping business rolling inside radio stations with doors closed tight and windows blackened because of curfew in the Madhesi areas of Nepal’s terai or valley region, where protests over a new constitution had led to bloodshed.
“Raju-ji garib log la bahute kam kaele bani, agar inka ticket milata ta apan vote jaroor deham (Raju-ji) has done much for the poor and needy, do give one vote in his favour if his party rewards him with a ticket,” the Indrani FM message wafts through the border.
The wannabes represent the entire political spectrum — supporters of BJP to Jitan Ram Manjhi's HAM, Pappu Yadav’s Jan Adhikar Party to RJD and JD(U).
“With hopefuls trying for tickets and parties still to decide on who should contest, they have crowded the FM bands to advertise themselves and demonstrate their clout,” a poll official said in Motihari, headquarters of East Champaran district.
Along the Narkatiaganj-Raxaul-Sitamarhi railway corridor that snakes into Nepal at several points around Raxaul and Majorganj on the border, radios blare messages such as this: “Here are the names of possible candidates of various political parties for Madhuban assembly seat in East Champaran district of Bihar, India.”
Economics and the model code of conduct, which set in after the polls were announced, were driving this rush to Nepal FM station. A 60-second slot comes cheap because of the exchange rate: one Indian rupee is equal to Nepalese Rs 1.60.
What’s more, the Election Commission has not been able to charge the self-promoting “advertisers” with any excess poll-related expenditure.
“We cannot take action because of the absence of guidelines on dealing with foreign radios,” the poll official in Motihari said. “It is not wrong for candidates and parties to use Nepal’s FMs. But they must submit bills.”
The Nepalese FM channels are favoured because they come cheap, offer a wide range of choice and cover more than 100 constituencies.
“I buy airtime to help my relatives contesting polls in Bihar,” said Raj Kumar Singh, a schoolteacher in Nepal’s Birgunj who comes from a political family with roots in India. “A 40-second ad costs Nepalese Rs 5,000 to Rs 8,000 for 12 insertions.”
Radio Birgunj jockey Hemant Tamang said they have a good number of listeners because Indian FM stations have negligible reach in areas along the Bihar-Nepal border.