A Journey into Indian Electioneering Scene
Syed Ali Mujtaba
Its election time in India, the largest democracy of world is going to exercise the franchise in another two weeks time. The whole country is abuzz with electoral process; filing of the nomination papers, campaign trail, multimedia blitz and participation of the masses, are all different facets of Indian electioneering. One has to visit at the nook and corners of the country to enjoy the electrifying mood to feel the pulse of Indian elections.
There are six national political parties, forty five regional parties and unlimited independent candidates battling out for the general elections 2004. Apart from parliamentary elections, four states, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Orissa and Tripura are also going to polls.
This is the time one may find, posters, hoardings and cut outs on display every where in the country. All prominent walls in town and cities are occupied by the political parties who beautifully paint the names and pictures of their candidate, leaders and slogans. One can see different party’s flags all over vantage space; atop buildings, houses, tree and even some decoratively arranged on the road sides. It’s common sight to see one tree sporting dozen’s flags of different political parties.
During electioneering one may find scores of vehicles of various kinds pressed into electioneering. Jeeps tempo small trucks all fitted with loud speakers flying party flag crisscrossing the rural- urban India. Some of them play audio and video castes which have speeches of party’s leader, its manifesto and even parody songs to attract people in large numbers. A huge cavalcade of cars, tractors and other mode of transport follow the leaver’s campaign trail. Some time even elephants and camels are seen pressed into service for electioneering.
The making of the posters, cut outs, hoardings and flags provide livelihood to millions of people. Printers, painters, flag, banners and cut out makers all are in great demand during this time in India. Taxi’s trucks, Lorries, buses all have increased business during elections. Those, who supply public address system, prepare ‘pandal’s’, provide ‘shamiyanas’ and rugs make quick bucks during elections.
A huge business and job opportunities opens up during every elections in India. Since all political parties like to out do the other, the amount of money that gets into circulation and the number jobs that’s created may have few parallels in the world.
Like every elections, this time too many film stars have announced joining political parties. In fact there was a daily parade of film stars and singers on TV screen by the BJP and the Congress announcing them joining their outfits. However, not many actors that came forward to join the politics were reining stars and some belonged to aged, retired or out of circulation categories. However, in a movie crazy country, stars joining politics is big news which all media like to cover with outmost fanfare.
The wide reach of the film stars and their glamour value has made many political parties to give them tickets to contest elections. As result actor, Dharmendra, Govinda, actress, Mosmi Chaterjee, Jaya Pradha, Farah, Nafessa Ali, Tamil actress Roja, Assame poet Bhupen Hazarika are all in political fray this time.
Elections also provide entertainment to the ordinary folks. During campaigning, hours before the start of the function, hundreds of thousands of people flock to the electioneering venue and wait patiently for the main speaker’s speech. The waiting crowd would be entertained by skits, songs often parody and mimicry programmes by little known local artists. Election provides an opportunity of a life time to these budding performers to perform in front of huge crowd.
When the slated speaker arrives, it could be hours behind the schedule as Indian leaders consider coming late as an added prestige to their stature. They feel happy to see large crowd waiting patiently to hear their speech. The speeches of these leaders are often long unwieldy and hardly with any substance. Most often the speeches are punctuated with challenges, ridicule, wit and tall promises. Many a time the same speech is recycled from one venue to other. The election bohemian continues till midnight or even till early morning.
Election campaigning is not an easy job for the political leaders who address dozen of meeting every day, meandering through the cities, towns and villages. Some leaders convert their transport as addressing platforms for way side campaigns and resting place during travel. One could see leaders disembarking from their vehicle and going door to door with folded hands and asking for votes to the roadside villages.
The dusk to dawn campaign will start in the afternoon and continue till early hours of the morning. The interim time available to the leaders is utilised to catch some sleep, read or watch the latest news and start for another day’s campaign trial.
This time electioneering has been devoid of any serious or contentious issues. The campaign has hit all time low when political parties started attacking the leader’s mudslinging over their personalities. Congress President, Sonia Gandhi‘s foreign origin issue is being hotly drummed up by the BJP. Sonia is also being criticised by the BJP as a reader who reads her speeches and compared to Vajpayee who can go extempore speeches for hours together.
The most scathing comment on Sonia Gandhi came from Chief Minister Narender Modi, who during an election campaigning said, that ‘as per a survey conducted in few districts of Gujarat, it was found that no one is willing to employ Sonia Gandhi as clerk or give her son Rahul Gandhi the job of a driver.
On the other hand, Congress is campaigning about Prime Minister Vajpayee to have subverted India’s freedom struggle and described as an informer of the British government. Congress is circulating documentary evidence to tell that Vajpayee had apologised to the British government, for coming clean in Quit India movement of 1942. It is also attacking Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani, for being born in Karachi, now in Pakistan.
Congress is also accusing the BJP’s involvement in numerous scams and scandals. Sting operation by Tehelka.com on defence procurement and coffin scam during the Kargil skirmishes are cited by Congress. The BJP is also lampooned about its then president Bangaru Laxman and recently its Chatishgarh leader Dilip Singh Judev caught taking bribe on camera. Congress is also reminding of the communal riots in Gujarat, accusing Vajpayee of protecting Narender Modi widely believed to be responsible for the communal pogrom in the state.
The BJP on contrary accuses Congress for all the woes of the country. It takes pride in highlighting that what the NDA government has done in five years, Congress could not do in more than forty years of its rule. It extols the leadership of Vajpayee to successfully running a coalition of 24 parties and yet providing political stability and steering the country towards development. As the electioneering is getting heated, the allegation and counter allegation gets vociferous. Apart from politicians and political managers, journalists too sweat it out during electioneering. It’s during this time that journalists are the busiest people who remain tied almost 24 hrs to their job. While some journalist are out in the field reporting the campaign trail of the leaders and their meetings, others remain busy in their news rooms making news bulletins, filling up pages with stories and pictures relating to elections.
In India, there is a large numbers of morning and evening newspapers, magazines and periodicals in English, Hindi and other vernacular languages. All of them devote a huge space to election coverage. Browsing into these publications, one may find interesting write-ups about candidates, constituency profiles and other election related stories. Many political parties have their own newspapers which highlight its achievements and criticise their rival parties.
With the advent of satellite and cable, Television is another medium which is providing coverage to the elections. The 24 hrs news channels have fleets of reporters; OB vans, spread out into the length and breadth of the country. The live coverage, ‘sound bites’, instant pictures all attract viewers in large numbers to the small screen. The competition among channels is as to who is the fastest in the race. All channels have various lively programmes related to elections and news channels are most sought after by the viewers.
There is plethora of print and electronic media spread out at national and regional levels. Like newspapers, some of the television channels are owned by the political parties too. In comparison to English or Hindi TV channels, there is phenomenal growth of vernacular language based media in India.
This time elections are being held in April- May, considered hot and dry season in most part of the country. This time of the year, people like to stay in-doors to avoid heat and dust of Indian summers. In most part of north Indian plains, there is general water and power scarcity. The farmers get over harvesting their ‘rabi’ crops this time and those having irrigation facility get busy sowing their third crop. The students look forward for their summer holidays as their long and arduous exams get over around this time. The big question is will the voters turn out to the polling booths in large numbers in such situation. The answer to this can only be known on the polling day; as now, every one in India remains in grip of election fever!
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a Television Journalist currently working in Chennai, india. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org