When the recent Karnataka elections were covered live, in the afternoon there were shocking images of three men walking with sword-length choppers outside a voting venue. What was even more shocking was that the police were present right there. The icing on the cake was the reporters saying (not verbatim, but essence): Look here are these men walking fearlessly with their arms. Here are the police. Note that the police were just onlookers till the cameras showed up. After the cameras came on scene, the police are now chasing the men and making a show of catching them. (While this was being said, the police indeed were belatedly chasing the men).
In the 2009 MLA elections, I had campaigned in Andhra Pradesh. The candidate for whom I was campaigning was representing Loksatta Party. This is a small party with a small presence in a few states. It has been started by an erstwhile bureaucrat named Jaiprakash Narayan (that really is his name). He is from Andhra. Has an extremely clean record. Is known to have challenged the government over electric supply and backed his challenge with delivering what they said was impossible. Fed up with the working of the government, knowing that the only way to bring about a change is to become a policy and decision-maker, he started the party. His candidates shared his vision of change. They all fought the elections with personal money – so they didn’t make a large splash. In fact, they couldn’t make a large splash because idealists do not have accumulated wealth.
While I was campaigning, I was first stunned and then horrified by not only the big political parties (I refrain from saying “national” parties here because this was the year Chiranjeevi also entered the political fray with a local party. Nevertheless, he was big.) but also by the people. I was sickened seeing that politicians had transformed the aam aadmi into being as corrupt as themselves, at best; and beggars, at worst.
I would like to share some of those experiences so that more people know how election campaigns are conducted.
A lady walked into the house to meet the candidate’s wife one afternoon. First she spoke about the high regard and respect that people have for the party as a whole and for the candidate in particular. Then she said that the entire colony of approximately 3,000 people were Bhramins. Since the candidate was also a Bhramin, they had decided to vote for him. However, before pledging their vote, they wanted the candidate to either renovate or build (don’t remember which) their temple and “donate” chairs etc.
She was refused and not a single vote was cast for the respected party by them.
One morning a motorbike pulled up outside the house. A man in white got off and came in. Without beating around the bush, he said that he was the sarpanch of a village in the constituency (the constituency had 100 villages). He said that he would ensure that the whole village would vote of Loksatta if he was given Rs. 300/- per vote. He was asked to leave. He couldn’t believe it. Clearly he thought he had an offer that no politician could refuse. Thinking he hadn’t been heard right or he hadn’t made himself clear, he repeated his offer. He was once again asked to leave. After a few rounds of this, he realised that his proposition was understood and firmly rejected. So he left. He made it to his bike and came back to say that he should be paid Rs. 1,500/- because he made the journey from the village on his own bike.
Needless to say no one in that village voted for Loksatta.
It was late evening and we were in one of the villages wrapping up the last meeting of the day. The candidate was speaking to the people one-on-one and we were waiting a little away. A group of villagers sidled up to us as informed us that the previous day one of the national parties had had a meeting there. They had given free biryani and alcohol to all villagers. What were we offering for their vote? A longer term improvement to their state – was not a good enough reason to cast their vote.
These are only some of the many, many incidents. While they may not seem like a big deal, the fact is that the malaise is widespread and deeply entrenched. The fact is that votes are being bought by bribery or intimidation. The tragedy is that the people expect bribery (every incident shared above is an example of wanting to be bribed, though we are not used to using this word for the common man). While the same tactics may not be used in urban and semi-urban areas, this is the truth in villages; and let us not forget that most of India still lives in the villages.
Incidents of vehicles with dickies full of cash to distribute in the villages being caught at toll nakas happened multiple times a day. Incidents of lorries full of strong men spreading in the area were a norm. Incidents of vehicles caught with arms (from bladed weapons to fire arms) were also reported. All these vehicles which were caught or detained proudly bore the sticker/s or flag of their respective party.
If this is what happens during elections is there any hope whatsoever to have a government that works towards the betterment of the society or the progress of the country?
Footnote: I am told that there is a law that if the voter turnout is higher than a particular percentage (maximum percentage) then the election in that constituency will be declared as a mis-election and nullified. However, there is no such law for a minimum percentage. Can anyone either confirm or refute this piece of information that I have received?