What goes UP must come down?

What goes UP must come down?

Audience/Electoral Democracy looks like a box-office movie from afar. It mainly focuses on a single star. Marketing is designed to reflect how a political party is already geared up for a big race.

Similarly, crores shone in the posters of blockbusters too. From which it is not known how much a producer has earned from a film so far. It is of no interest to the audience. It is to announce how many people have seen that movie. So should He is the only player to play in the city.

What is the assumption here? That people outsource their choices to the majority. If so many people are voting a certain way, indicating a perceived wave, why bother going the other way.

Simply that an election, be it state/national, involves multiple films/constituencies, with their own unique set of issues, somewhat homogeneous by political parties, fighting against each other, across all geographic regions. In, for eyeballs/votes.

While every film is a Sholay before release, how does one tell the outcome? Pollsters seem to accurately gauge the general direction of the election, often even not by a considerable number. Sometimes they both get it wrong.

Or so it seems from seeing Amethi, a constituency in Uttar Pradesh during a (general) election (2019), that journalist Anant Vijay in his book, Dynasty to Democracy: The Untold Story of Smriti Irani’s Triumph (Westland) ), which has been translated from Hindi by Debdutt Bhattacharjee.

What did BJP candidate Irani do to win from Amethi in 2019? Apparently, no one predicted for sure? He defeated Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, against whom he had contested in 2014. He had reduced Rahul’s victory margin in 2014; But lost.

As a Union minister, writes Vijay, after the 2014 defeat, she kept returning to Amethi – addressing local issues, such as timely delivery of rakes of fertilizers, or setting up soil testing laboratories for Amethi farms.

Victory’s book captures one perspective almost perfectly—that of the Conqueror, of course; And that’s how history is written. Why was Irani’s victory symbolically historic? Some constituencies in India—such as Baramati in Maharashtra for Sharad Pawar—are associated with a man who has traditional sway among the electorate.

Amethi is the citadel/fort of the worn-out Nehru-Gandhi family. So much so that the other Gandhis—Rajmohan, grandson of the Mahatma; Sanjay’s wife Maneka, who had earlier adopted Amethi- has finally contested from the constituency claiming to be the ‘real Gandhi’. He was decisively defeated by former Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi (MP from Amethi, 1981–1991), Rahul’s father, who held the seat for a decade (2004–2014).

In Rajiv’s years the ballot boxes would have involved voting, reversing, mixing, and then counting. Not so in the case of Electronic Voting Machines – where I guess, you can immediately tell which polling station voted for which of the 1,963 polling stations in Amethi. I wonder what that does to the principle of secret ballot.

At each polling station in Amethi, as Vijay details, 20 workers were assigned by the RSS, the BJP’s parent, to a parallel network of swayamsevaks (volunteers) who had deployed themselves since November, 2018.

As I think along with other such constituencies, RSS maps Amethi into districts (two), blocks (seven), mandals (93) and nyaya panchayats (116). The volunteers belong to the shakhas (local branches), which increased from 250 in 2014 to 300 in 2019. There is no official process to become a volunteer.

There are also recreational/team-building exercises/games played inside the shakhas, such as ‘Main Shivaji’, ‘Mitra Raksha’. One such game that had an impact, Vijay cites, is called ‘Delhi Hamari’.

In this, a volunteer stands inside a circle, repeatedly shouting, ‘Who will win Delhi? In a gleeful way, or that’s what I understood about it, the other participants try to enter the circle shouting back, “Delhi ours!”

Another move that attracted the attention of local, married women was the Irani holding a mass fast, the Durdaria Vrat, in honor of Aosan Mai, a local goddess.

Another, Vijay writes: “[Irani] It is learned that the Bhale Sultan of Umra village had presented a challenge to the British during the revolt of 1857. She became the first candidate in the history of independent India to move from Amethi to Umra and commemorate Bhale Sultan. Still debating in films, I see from her list that she also organized free screenings of the war film, Uri.

It’s called a ‘campaign’—a term used to refer to war and advertising outside elections. A memory of the UP state election campaign in Prashant Jha’s book How the BJP Wins (Juggernaut) is Prime Minister Narendra Modi referring to himself as ‘Senapati’. As the old saying goes, “Half of what we spend on advertising is wasted. Except, no one knows which half.”

Beyond the box-office for a political party like Blitzkrieg, a fresh and fair election certainly has complex issues, both personal and public, ethnic and economic among voters. Here, we are talking about the arithmetic (Irani’s 49.7 percent of votes against Rahul’s 43.8) and chemistry in a constituency (out of about 1.5 million voters).

Extrapolate as many parties/people from hundreds of such constituencies to find out its complexity. You should not be surprised that Delhi’s top journalists rarely get anything new before elections. They probably follow politics. Not so proficient in micro-management and mass mobilization, perhaps?

Mayank Shekhar has tried to make sense of the people’s culture. He tweeted @mayankw14

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The views expressed in this column are those of the individual and do not represent the views of the paper



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