December, the last month of the year is seen as the time to take stock, tie loose ends, finish what you started and hope that wishes come true in the year ahead. As the State of Telangana cruises into this phase, an election brought on ahead of time adds to the heat of a none too chilly winter. Whether the New Year will bring cheer to the old guard or usher in change remains firmly in the hands of the “common man”, who is now the cynosure of all politicians.
Posturing including body language and verbal attacks intended to raise passions and infuse life into audiences (daily wage earners paid for listening to speeches) waiting for hours on end and responding appropriately to long winding political speeches, have reached a crescendo with candidates in the fray trying everything in the book to endear themselves to the “voter”, the most important entity in the “Battle of the ballot”.
A mammoth exercise involving 2, 80, 64, 680 voters with 1.38 crore male voters, 1.35 crore female and 2,663 from the third gender exercising their vote will decide on whom to hand over the reins of governance. As massive arrangements have been put in place in the 32, 574 polling stations where voters will elect representatives to the 119 assembly states in the state, the rhetoric in the last lap has only gotten more intense and coarser leading right-thinking citizens to ponder on the question, what lies ahead?
Adapted from Shakespeare’s ‘Tempest’, “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows,” the quote “Politics makes strange bedfellows” is equally true. As unlikely allies Telugu Desam born out of anti-Congress sentiment in the State, the Congress party, Telangana Jana Samithi (TJS) and the Communist Party sank differences to face the common enemy, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) we saw this play out with full force.
Friendship forged to fight a common enemy is neither novel nor unexpected in the political game plan where the ‘players’ remain the same, changing alignments and donning different party colours with ease to suit their purpose. The BJP remained indefatigable trying to make an impact through the “Modi” factor. With “winning” being the only criterion the cry for equality remained stifled in all parties where we saw women as “omnipresent” in election campaigns but negligible as candidates in the fray.
Of the twin objectives of “free and fair’’ elections as envisaged in our constitution we have to a certain extent achieved the objective of “free elections” (no booth capturing) but “fair election” is a goal where we have failed miserably, according to M Padmanabha Reddy, of the Forum for Good governance. He is clear that the future will see a greater deterioration in the quality of people’s representatives who are using money and muscle power to reach the winning post. “We studied the affidavits of 365 candidates from the main parties contesting the 119 seats and discovered that 181 candidates have criminal records, and this is much more than what we have seen in previous elections. We are going to have more representatives with criminal antecedents in the assembly than in the past,” Reddy asserts.
While Sec 171 of the IPC clearly states that the distribution of money, liquor or treats (vehicles or other conveniences) to candidates is an offence there is no transparency about the cash and liquor seized. While cases of seizure of cash and liquor are reported in the media, the follow-up action is not, making the whole exercise a farce according to organisations trying to spread awareness among the voters. “Election Watch’’ a collective of 30 non-government organisations (NGO’s) to increase voter awareness feels that money and freebies have a great impact on voters who are least concerned about a candidate’s credentials.
As the entire family receives money, food and liquor, in rural areas and urban slums, the days leading up to the election are a feast for families who see this as “their collection time”. “This time the party is likely to be a little longer as the election series will continue as we have assembly elections followed by the General Elections and then the Panchayat Elections in 2019,’’ a member of this collective declares.
Although there is greater awareness among voters, the disinterest shown by the urban elite and youth is a cause of concern. Prof. Subharangan of ‘Let’s Vote’, an organisation committed to increasing the percentage of voting among the literate sections for three elections since 2008, is saddened by the lack of interest among these sections citing a dearth of suitable candidates.
“Exercising the ‘NOTA’ (None of the above) option showing disapproval of all candidates in the fray can bring pressure to get better candidates or allow a re-contest by approaching the courts. We hope to see a greater turn out of educated sections who are not lured by money power vote in big numbers. A poll holiday, only for those who show proof of having voted is one of the suggestions made by our organisation to the Election Commission,” the Prof. Subharangan shares.
As political debates, special interviews and voter surveys take up television time and print space and drawing room discussions are agog with excitement over surveys by all and sundry, the atmosphere is truly surcharged with election fever. Astrologers, soothsayers, individuals and organisations rolling out surveys and analysis are all enjoying their “talk time”. Abusive language and description of opponents with various epithets ranging from “buffoons’’ to “brokers” and social media campaigns showing candidates stooping to any low for that “one vote’’ have audiences watching without respite.
Soap operas and Netflix originals have been cast aside for real-life drama in the form of road shows and public meetings. Despite all these activities, fathoming the rationale behind the “vote” remains a mystery to the most seasoned politicians and hardened journalists. As the great “election mela (fair)” comes to an end we can wait with bated breath to listen to political pundits discuss threadbare the failures and successes after the suspense is over. Bracing up for surprises remains the only predictable factor of our polity as we wait for the “December Denouement”. #KhabarLive