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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Need for a Quieter Election Campaign!

By: Rajmohan Gandhi

If you think election sloganeering has damaged your eardrums, spare a thought for the poor candidate, whose ears are blasted all the time from up close by vociferous supporters who love loudspeakers. 

A delightful, if also comic, side to electioneering is that the future leader (at least in her own mind), who stands firmly next to the (usually exhausted) candidate on an open jeep, refuses to move, and waves in regal style to real or imaginary crowds. 

Then there are the moments of danger. Sitting in the front seat next to the driver of a fast-moving jeep, more than exhausted after several hours of walking, talking, standing and being garlanded, with no barrier of any kind between me and the swiftly-receding road to my left, I dozed off and crashed down on to that road — almost. In the final nano-second, a life-preserving instinct roused me and I survived. 

Trial by wire 

The low-hanging wires and cables under which I, standing in the jeep, was driven on multiple occasions on the narrow and uneven lanes of Krishna Nagar and Laxmi Nagar in what was romantically described as a "road show" should have strangulated or electrocuted me several times but for my nimbleness. I simultaneously waved, bowed, folded my hands, stooped, evaded and kept my balance throughout, with a smiling face, of course. 

Keen to study the succession of faces on either side — at windows, balconies, outside shops, on the road — I often forgot to wave and was often nudged by party workers to remember what I was expected to do. On one occasion, the fragile platform on which I was standing/waving/namaskaring on a moving jeep collapsed and my leg went down nine inches through broken packing-wood. 

Unsung heroes 

Scores of scars on the knees and shin and elsewhere will for months remind me of the efforts I made to get on to and out of the open space behind the jeep driver. That I emerged more or less intact was a miracle. No doubt hundreds of other candidates were similarly spared/blessed. Every election campaign possesses heroes. Mine certainly did. I cannot name them here, but there were women and men who worked 20 hours a day for my success in East Delhi, people who cooked, cleaned, served, fed, went on padyatras, gave out leaflets, raised slogans, answered questions and remained supremely confident until the final moment of voting. 

How does one thank such people? I met their counterparts in different parts of Gujarat too while I campaigned there for the Aam Aadmi Party candidates during April 18-23. 

Then there are the true friends, those who want the best for you, totally irrespective of what the outcome may mean for them, persons who assist sincerely, quietly, sensitively. There were also those whose sincerity was less than convincing. "Oho, Jai Ho, Gandhiji," they would say when encountered at a park or in their shop. "Gandhiji! Baithiye, baithiye, doodh mangaayen? Chai? Lassi?" 

While deferential on the surface and eager for me to spend time with them, they would become furious and even abusive on finding that, unwilling to spend time listening to their hostile views, I moved on to meet others truly interested. Specially valuable are the moments that teach. You think you know what life in a slum is like. Since I had not lived inside a slum, I was taught a great deal by my walks through scores of East Delhi's jhuggi-jhompri settlements. 

Rich in spirit 

Women and men who cook, bathe and wash clothes six inches from a choked drain, who start their workday early and end it late, who earn their daal-roti with the sweat of their brow, who smilingly and thoughtfully raise their children despite the negligible schooling the latter receive — these men and women form communities that can teach the rest of us endurance, ingenuity and teamwork. 

If after nearly seven decades of Independence, scores of thousands in East Delhi have to overcome such conditions every day, with what face can anyone speak of India as a great economic power? 

Ageneral election is a great gambling game that almost everyone in a nation plays: parties, candidates, citizens, the media, everyone. It exhibits passion, frenzy, proximity to violence and attempts, at times successful, to cheat. In speeches, greys are incinerated. There is space only for blacks and whites. 

However, a general election can also contain efforts, resolves and prayers for genuine change. The candidate works non-stop. So do innumerable supporters. Long after a campaign ends, a candidate's dreams are all about campaigning. 

As to how to win an election, actually it is very simple. One, cultivate a constituency for, say, 10-20 years. Two, obtain the ticket of a major party. Three, arrange for funds and winds to favour that party. 

The writer is an eminent historian and AAP candidate from East Delhi parliamentary constituency.


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