What are campaigns for?

Election campaigns are on across India. I was speaking to a few people today in the neighbourhood I stay - a motley group of youngsters, adults and the older generation. The overwhelming sentiment was one of despair.

The common refrain was that after 60 years of Independence, most parts of the country are still bereft of infrastructural development. Not only that, communalism, casteism and what have you, are getting worse by the day, most felt. If in Kerala, you are identified by the party you belong to, here, it is the caste you represent, said one youngster.

Vijay Kumar, a sports journalist with the Express once, now in his 70s, said he had nothing to look forward to - a garbage dump outside his house was cleared only once in a while, there were frequent power cuts, water supply was erratic, storm water drains had choked as a result of which floodwater had entered his house last monsoon, and wherever he went, he found corruption and disrespect for humankind, even the elderly. So, what's the point in voting, he asked me.

Politics was all about muscle and money, everybody agreed. Unless you had goons to support you and money to splurge, it was a useless exercise. I tried to convince them that no matter what, the best way to voice frustration was at the hustings, by voting on poll day. A few were leaving town on voting day, they didn't really care. Premila, a young mother, said that she had never voted, not did she want to. How can you vote for the kind of people who stand for elections, she thundered. Everybody seemed to nod in unison. I felt outnumbered and could not find anything to say.

As I was about to say bye and leave, two journalists with a leading newspaper came by. They had just been on the campaign trail of a local biggie. It was something they had wanted to experience firsthand. Now back, they looked famished and deprived of sleep. Reason: they had to wait for four hours for the biggie to arrive. Under sweltering heat. And when finally he did make an appearance, fleeting as it was, all he did was fold his hands in a namaste, wave and smile. Somebody thrust a mike at him and he was forced to speak - a few words of what he would do if they voted for him. And in a few moments he had turned the corner street and disappeared in a cavalcade of vehicles and hangers-on. Life returned to normal almost as soon as he left, except for the film songs that blared from the loudspeakers.

Can't you write about how they steal power from our lines to play the music, a shopkeeper had asked one of the scribes. "Well, I might as well write about that," the reporter thought aloud, "Might be a better story than about his campaign trail."


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