Indian Political Circus reaches the Climax Scene
Syed Ali Mujtaba
It is time to take stock of the Indian electioneering which is drawing to close with the polling of the first of the four phased elections slated for April 20th. The second phase is on April 25 and third on May 5th and last on May 10th. The entire country for the first time would be using electronic voting machine during polling. The counting date is fixed for May 13th and results are expected by the same evening.
The election 2004 was fought like two corporate giants, between the BJP and the Congress. Both the political parties appointed highly professionally managed research team to target each constituency with intensive survey, using money, leadership time, cadres, customized advertising and other strategies to swing votes in their favour. The intensity of electoral competition was such that both indulged in psychological warfare and media manipulation as part of electoral management mechanics.
The election saw many issues being drummed up to woo the unpredictable Indian masses. BJP raked up the issue of foreign origin of Sonia Gandhi, Bofors, and Congress 40 years of misrule. Congress also accused Vajpayee being British agent who betrayed the freedom struggle. L.K Advani’s nativity was questioned for being born in Karachi now in Pakistan. Congress attacked BJP, of corruption, communal program in Gujarat, price rise and unemployment. The BJP in reply boasted of its achievements and went hoarse on feel good factor and India shining campaign.
The positive trend of the electioneering was that there was no breach of communal peace in the country. There was no clamour for common civil code or abrogation of article 370, which gives special powers to Jammu and Kashmir or anti- Pakistan rhetoric during electioneering. In lighter vein, Gujarat Chief Minister, Narender Modi called Sonia Gandhi as Begum Sahib and Pakistan President as Mian Musharraf but barring that no Sangh Privar leader uttered any lewd remarks against Muslim, Islam or Pakistan during electioneering. There was a flutter in the Modi camp, when Supreme Court, compared him to modern day’s Nero, who did nothing when Gujarat was burning. The Apex court lambasted the Gujarat government for travesty of justice and transferred the Best bakery case to Maharastra, for free and fair trial. The case pertains to 14 person’s had burnt alive during the 2002 Gujarat riots, and its main witness Zahira Shiekh, complaining of intimidation by those in power.
The beginning of the electioneering saw bickering in Congress camp, when senior leader and deputy chairperson of Rajya Sabha, Najma Heptullah, had a standoff with the party. This was due to her remarks in praise of Vajpayee’s leadership. The biggest surprise was from former Congress leader Arif Mohmmad Khan, who lay low in Bahujan Samaj party for long, announced his decision to join the BJP, a party, he opposed his entire career. BSP leader, Rashid Alavi, who had defended his party president Mayawati in Taj corridor scam, accused her of selling parliamentary tickets by taking money. Alavi latter announced his decision to join the Congress. Another, Muslim leader Syed Shabuddin, announced his decision to join the Congress after remaining dormant in Indian politics for more than 15 years. The Nationalist Congress Party NCP headed by Shard Pawar, saw a three way split even before the electioneering. Two of NCP’s founding leaders PA Sangma and VC Shukla, objected to the party’s alliance with the Congress and broke away. Sangama floated a new outfit to tie up with, Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress while VC Shukla, joined the BJP. The election also saw folding up of Samata Party due to its merger with Janta Dal (United) which was not recognised by the election commission as one of its leader disagreed with the leadership that kept the party afloat.
The electioneering saw Congress President Sonia Gandhi undertaking road show, attracting large crowed in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani, did an extensive campaigning through his Bhart Uday Yatra (India shinning) campaign. Advani covered 8,500 kilometres touching 128 parliamentary constituencies in 33 days, on a specially designed Bus. He claimed to see a pro incumbency wave blowing in favour of the NDA, but media which followed him reported a poor response to his road show.
The protagonist of India shinning campaign got a tight slap on their faces, when 22 women died in a stampede in a free saree distribution function in Lucknow which is also Prime Minister Vajpayee’s constituency. The incident occurred during the birthday function of BJP’s septuagenarian leader, Lalji Tandon where some 25,000 destitute women had assembled to get free saree, a six yard of cloth to cover their bare body. The Election Commission took a strong note of the incident and asked the police to book Tandon in a bribery case and reprimanded the BJP for violating the model code of conduct.
The electioneering also witnessed some tragedies. Well known, Kanada and Telegue actress, Saundurya was killed along with three other in an aircraft crash near Bangalore. The actress who had joined the BJP was on her campaign trial from Karnataka to Andhra Pradesh when the mishap took place. Earlier, some Congress leaders had a miraculous escape while landing their aircraft at an election venue in Orissa. These leaders were in a separate aircraft that followed Sonia Gandhi’s craft Former Chaitishgarh Chief Minister; Ajit Jogi met with a serious accident during, campaigning in his constituency and is currently battling for his life in a hospital, Mumbai.
The electioneering saw poll related violence in Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Chattishgarh and Bihar. Militants targeted, ruling PDP rally in Jammu and Kashmir, killing more than ten persons. Among those injured included two ministers of the PDP party. Militants also targeted a Congress rally in the Jammu and Kashmir. One person was killed in poll related violence at ruling RJD office in Patna, Bihar.
In Jharkhand, left ultras called for a boycott to the election and threatened Advani’s yatra from the crossing the state. Militants triggered a mine blasts that killed 21 people, a day, before the Deputy Prime Minister’s entourage entered the state. In Chatishgarh state, left ultras, gave call to boycott the poll and targeted police personal killing a four of them. Surprisingly, Assam and northeast of India, the hot bed of violent activity in past elections, remained quite during this electioneering. The reason could military operation in Bhutan by Royal Bhutan Army almost smashed the backbone of the separatist ULFA group.
The beginning of the electioneering saw a huge number of film stars flocking to the offices of the political parties. There was an almost a daily parade of film stars in its media briefings by the political parties. There were allegations that these stars were tipped according to their status to make a guest appearance. However, only a handful of film stars were fielded by the political parties due to their wide reach and their glamour value.
BJP, fielded, TV actress Smirti Irani popularly known as Tulsi in ‘Saas bhi kabhi Bahu thi’ serial, from a Delhi constituency. It fielded actor Dharmendra from Biknair Rajasthan. BJP also fielded renowned Assame poet, theatre and film personality Bhupen Hazarika from Gauhati. Congress gave ticket to actor Govinda to contest from Mumbai. Actresses, Mosmi Chaterjee, Nafessa Ali are contesting under Congress banner from Kolkotta. Congress also fielded actress Farah from Merrut in UP. Samajwadi party fielded actress Jaya Pradha from Rampur. Tamil actress Roja, is contesting for Nageri assembly constituency in Andhra Pradesh on TDP ticket. In sum, as the D day to cast one secret ballot inches near, the great Indian circus is drawing close. It had been a tough electioneering with tyrannical mercury shooting up giving no respite to the poll campaigners from the heat and dust of the proverbial Indian summers. The big question will those in power get a chance to remain in office, or those who had been waiting for five years will be voted to power. The mandate of the unpredictable Indian masses will only be known on the May 13th, but going the hype hoopla created by the media, the BJP led NDA alliance is ahead in the race.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a television journalist currently working in chennai. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org