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The big fat Indian electionIllustration: Sandeep Joshi

The big fat Indian election

Comedy, tragedy, drama, mystery, suspense, violence, and more... There was nothing ordinary about the 17th Lok Sabha polls. The Tribune team presents a ringside view of the vast exercise that the largest democracy in the world undertook to elect the new government19 May 2019 | 7:04 AM[ + read story ]

CM grounded!

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot pushed all limits in the state elections to ensure he was there for all Congress candidates, and not just for son Vaibhav who was making a political debut from the high-profile Jodhpur seat. While criss-crossing the state during one of his election tours, the CM had to face a piquant situation. One fine day, Gehlot’s VIP chopper had to be grounded by 4 pm as the pilot in charge had completed his due flying hours for the week and couldn’t overdo the hours under the aviation rules. The Chief Minister, who was addressing various public meetings, however, failed to meet his deadline. The VIP chopper waited for its guest until 4 pm and then took off without the CM! Gehlot had to travel by road to finish his pending rallies while the private chopper took its own course! — AT

Vote stealer

Beware! Your vote could be robbed right in front of you. In Faridabad’s Asavati village, a few women alleged that a BJP poll agent stole their vote when he pressed the button on the EVM on the pretext of helping them. Their allegations might not have attracted much attention had it not been for a video clip, substantiating their allegations, doing the rounds on social media. The Election Commission of India was forced to step in and order a repoll. Later, it ordered the transfer of DC, Faridabad. The accused, Giriraj Singh, was booked and arrested. That was prompt! — BST

EC silent, SC furious

Many complaints were filed from different quarters relating to violation of Model Code of Conduct but the Election Commission remained silent until the Supreme Court set a deadline for it to decide on these. Following the court’s directive, the EC became super active. On certain days, between the third and sixth phase of polls, it passed multiple orders. These  included debarring candidates from campaigning, issuing warnings and giving clean chits to senior leaders of some parties. Till now, the poll panel has issued nearly a dozen clean chits to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP president Amit Shah and Congress chief Rahul Gandhi on complaints against them for their remarks during the course of campaigning across the country. — MR

Missing in action

At the Ghosi Lok Sabha seat in Mau district, voters could see hordes of people canvassing for the Mahagatbandhan candidate, Atul Rai, but the candidate himself is nowhere to be seen. The Mahagatbandhan leaders — BSP national president Mayawati and SP national president Akhilesh Yadav — held a massive rally here on May 15, asking voters to cast vote in favour of Rai, the absconding BSP contestant. But why is Rai missing from the scene? Well, a college student has registered a complaint of rape against him, and so he’s absconding to evade arrest. His party, though, is claiming that he has been framed. The voters here have a difficult decision to make. — SM

Candidate report card 

Most politicians tried to use highly emotive issues of sacrilege and the 1984 Anti-Sikh riots but the voters shunned divisive politics and sought development agenda to the dismay of candidates. Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, a former chief minister, slapped a person who asked her why the Congress government could not develop his village. In a similar situation, SAD’s Harsimrat Kaur Badal left in a huff saying she could not take questions now as she was busy campaigning. Even AAP’s Bhagwant Mann found it tough to answer the questions posed by the voters. In Anandpur Sahib, Punjab, several villagers put up hoardings outside the villages, asking candidates not to lure voters with intoxicants and urging them to answer three questions: why the culprits of sacrilege were not arrested; where were the promised jobs, and, where did the government manage to eradicate drug addiction.— RK

Tech’s the way 

The data provided by the Election Commission proved that apps like cVigil, Suvidha, Samadhan, Voter Helpline and PwD played a positive role. Political parties, candidates as well as voters used these extensively to make the electoral process participative and transparent. On cVigil app, the commission received more than 1,40,000 complaints of violations of Code of Conduct. More than 15 crore people downloaded the Voter Helpline App. The EC got two lakh applications for inclusion in the electoral rolls. Similarly, on the Samadhan app, which assists in addressing grievances, the EC got feedbacks from 12 crore people and through the Suvidha App, the poll panel granted more than 50,000 permissions for conducting meetings, rallies, etc. — MR

Singh is king 

The challenge politicians generally throw at their opponents during electioneering is for an open debate. The BJP candidate from Shahbad, Nayab Singh Saini (49) however, was challenged for a wrestling bout by his opponent, Nirmal Singh (66), of the Congress. To be fair, Saini asked for it as he taunted Singh, saying, “He is an old man. How much work can he do?” Singh immediately hit back, challenging Saini for a wrestling bout. “If he defeats me in wrestling, I will accept what he said and there will be no need of contesting the election,” he said. Apparently, Saini seems to have no intention of taking on the old man in a mud pit! — BST

Reward of age 

Amid the widespread mudslinging, it was heart-warming to see that everyone refrained from making any adverse remarks about octogenarian Virbhadra Singh, considering his age and stature. “His criticism and scolding is his way of showering his love on me and I take it as his blessings. It helps me grow in stature,” said Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu, even though the veteran leader was quite harsh on him. Showing similar grace, CM Jai Ram Thakur also said Virbhadra is an elderly person, and so they do not feel bad about whatever he says. — PC

‘My paltu chachu’ 

This election missed Lalu Prasad Yadav’s rustic wit and sarcasm. However, his younger son Tejashwi Prasad Yadav tried to fill his shoes by taking potshots at his opponents the way Lalu would. Taking a dig at Bihar CM Nitish Kumar, Tejashwi said: “My Paltu Chacha once promised he would turn into dust rather the joining hands with the BJP but he aligned with it. There is no person close to my Paltu Chacha whom he hasn’t cheated. I had watched a movie called Chachi 420 when I was a child. Now, I am watching live telecast of Chacha 420.” — JKS

Sportingly yours

Contesting from the Mumbai North Lok Sabha seat, former actress Urmila Matondkar, who was parachuted into the fray by a desperate Congress, turned the spotlight on herself. No one was turned away — neither television reporters looking for sound bytes nor youngsters and housewives seeking selfies with the actress. One of the richest candidates from Maharashtra with Rs 68 crore assets, Matondkar jumped through open gutters in the slums of her constituency and gobbled the spicy vada-pav from a street vendor without breaking into a sweat. At one point, some children from the Kajupada slums in Borivli rushed to shake her hands and even got her to sing ‘Lakdi ki kathi, kathi pe ghoda’, from her film Masoom, in which she had starred nearly 40 years back. The video went viral on social media. — SK

Clan bowled

The run-up to the Lok Sabha elections had leaders of the Maharashtra BJP unit rubbing their hands in glee. A bitter family feud in the household of Sharad Pawar was said to be tearing the Nationalist Congress party apart. Pawar’s nephew Parth, a political greenhorn, was keen on contesting from Maval. Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule was already set to defend her Baramati Lok Sabha seat. The Maratha warlord announced that he would not contest from Madha.Sharad Pawar, the BJP leaders crowed, was clan bowled by his own warring clan. “Pawar has become too old now and cannot control the ambitions of his relatives,” a senior BJP leader said. But as they say, blood is thicker than water. In the end, the entire Pawar clan came together to campaign for Parth, who was making his political debut.  — RK

Give and take

One fine day, two strangers turned up at the residence of Dushyant Chautala, Jannayak Janta Party’s candidate from the prestigious Hisar seat. It turned out they were close aides of Bhavya Bishnoi, the Congress candidate challenging Chautala, and were out to seek votes for Bishnoi. Now, one would have expected them to beat a hasty retreat on learning where they had landed, but they decided to meet Chautala anyway and, believe it or not, seek his vote for Bishnoi.  To his credit, Chautala met them warmly and even agreed to cast his vote for his opponent. But how could a politician allow a vote to slip out of his hands, that too his own? So, he quickly asked for a vote in return and made one of them promise to vote for him, not Bishnoi. Well played, Dushyant Chautala. — DD

The forgotten slap 

The Lok Sabha electioneering in Gujarat was, by and large, peaceful and free of unsavoury incidents, except perhaps for the slapping of the young Patel leader and Congress campaigner Hardik Patel at an election meeting in Surendranagar district in the Saurashtra region. The culprit was a die-hard BJP sympathiser but the ruling party quickly distanced itself from the incident. But once the polling was over, the slapping incident seems to have been forgotten. Hardik had filed a police complaint and the man was taken into protective custody, but nothing further happened. The state Congress and Hardik himself do not seem to be taking any more interest since the political fallout of the unfortunate incident has already been sealed in the EVMs and will be known only on May 23. — MD

Baan vs Khan 

With the Shiv Sena’s sitting MP Chandrakant Khaire facing a tough battle at the Aurangabad seat, party chief Uddhav Thackeray could not resist digging up some ghosts of the past. With AIMIM leader Assaduddin Owaisi campaigning aggressively and consolidating the Muslim vote for the party’s candidate Imtiaz Jaleel, Thackeray harked back to the days when the constituency was part of the erstwhile Hyderabad state. The Shiv Sena chief spoke about the brutalities on Hindus by the Razakars, a private militia owing allegiance to the Nizam who wanted to stay independent from both India and Pakistan. Shiv Sena workers went around asking voters to choose between ‘Baan’ (Shiv Sena’s symbol of bow and arrow) and ‘Khan’, a reference to AIMIM candidate Imtiaz Jaleel. — SK

Minister and a chaiwala 

Babul Supriyo is popular in his “para” (neighbourhood) in Asansol (West Bengal).  He takes out time to play badminton with the youth of his neighbourhood, and have tea regularly from a ramshackle tea shop run by a youth named Joy Sharma. The minister lives here with his family and has a fully equipped kitchen in his house but his first cup of tea in the morning before he hits the road for campaigning comes from Joy’s shop. Joy shares an excellent rapport with the minister but he never asks him for any favour. Supriyo respects Joy for this, and maybe having a chai regularly from his shop is his way of showing it.— SC

Vote for the rich...

South India saw quite a few interesting contests with some of the richest candidates in the fray coming from Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. With family assets worth Rs 895 crore, Konda Vishweshwer Reddy is the Congress party’s richest candidate in Telangana. Contesting from the Chevella segment, Konda has personal assets of Rs 367 crore. “One reason why we want to vote for him is that being so rich, he will not indulge in corruption” was a common response of the voters in the constituency. Konda, son-in-law of the Apollo Hospitals chairman, Prathap C Reddy, is an engineer and entrepreneur and has several patents and copyrights in India and abroad. One hopes he lives up to the expectations of the people. — NG

Behind the veil

Olympian Krishna Poonia made it her major poll plank  that she was the first woman to be contesting from the newly carved out Jaipur rural constituency. Congress candidate Poonia is pitted against another Olympian, shooting gold medalist and sitting Information and Broadcasting Minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore. Facing a tough challenge, Poonia decided to play on the female voters of the constituency, who still wear veil when in public. Poonia’s team came up with this catchy slogan to get the women to come out and vote for her in large numbers. “Le ghoonghat ki oat, de Krishna ko vote” played on jukeboxes wherever Poonia went to canvas. BJP strategists were quick to pick on the slogan’s stereotypical nuance. But women of the area were quite happy to be goaded to come out, veiled and vote. — AT

Robinhood of Rajasthan

The Nagaur Lok Sabha segment presented an interesting contest this time. It was the only seat in Rajasthan’s 25 segments where the BJP did not field its own candidate. Instead, it backed a prominent Jat leader Hanuman Beniwal, who had split from the saffron ranks to form his own party. Facing Beniwal was former Congress MP Jyoti Mirdha. But Beniwal’s rallies resonated with much more energy than Mirdha’s. Reason: Beniwal’s reputation across the state as the “saviour of the poor”. Even Beniwal’s opponents privately said he had a Robinhood-like image and was known to come to people’s rescue in times of crisis. A prominent pro-Beniwal slogan in his rallies summed up the mood of the locals. It went “Pehle Bhagwan, uske baad Hanuman”. — AT

Farmers enter the fray 

Telangana saw a novel protest this elections with over 200 farmers filing nominations from Nizamabad Lok Sabha constituency to contest against Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao’s daughter and sitting MP K Kavitha. They entered the fray to protest the failure of the state and Central governments to ensure better remuneratiion for their produce and for the government’s failure to set up a Turmeric Board. About 50 of these farmers from Telangana also filed nominations against Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Varanasi. Their common refrain was: “The contest is not to win, but to tell the politicians if they do not deliver, next time there can be a commonly supported candidate against the promise breakers.” — NG

Friendly fire 

Congress’ star campaigner and former CM Virbhadra Singh (84) went about making adverse comments about his own party candidates. He was supposed to seek votes for them but he ended up criticising many of them, leaving the voters amused. Like always, former state Congress president Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu remained the prime target of his criticism. At a rally in Hamirpur, he said party had been cleansed after the removal of Sukhu as Congress president. “Virbhadra ji is campaigning for the BJP by making such negative comments about Congress candidates, so we are obviously happy,” remarked former CM Shanta Kumar.  — PC

Mayajaal 

 BSP supremo Mayawati was playing the kingmaker, thundering against the saffron party in the hinterlands of Morena. Amid all this, it was alleged that she had “suddenly replaced” the party’s candidate Ramlakhan Singh, a Thakur who had the potential to spoil the chances of  BJP candidate Narendra Singh Tomar, at the behest of the BJP. In these parts of Madhya Pradesh adjoining Uttar Pradesh, her core vote bank, dalits, jatavs, etc. are considered the deciding factor.  — VS

Fear factor 

The winding road linking Darjeeling with Siliguri is dotted with the posters and cut-outs of TMC candidate Amar Singh Rai. While odd posters of CPM candidate Saman Pathak can be also spotted occasionally, there is no trace of the BJP’s Raju Bista. It sends out a message that the BJP is a fringe player here, which isn’t true. Apparently, the fear of reprisal from the Mamata Banerjee-led TMC prevents people from openly showing their association with the BJP. The BJP propaganda is similarly non-existent in many of the other constituencies of West Bengal, including Asansol from where Babul Supriyo is the party candidate. — SC

Hindi or Bengali?   

Nothing can be funnier than BJP leader Mukul Roy’s Hindi speech. Roy, who was a Rajya Sabha member from the Trinamool Congress (TMC), has lived in Delhi but his Hindi continues to be atrocious. Based in Kolkata now, Roy does not have to speak Hindi much but sometimes it becomes unavoidable. One such occasion arose when Roy had to address a BJP election rally at Kurseong. “Momota ne Gurung ka saath bishwash ghatokota kiya… (Mamata has betrayed Bimal Gurung…)”, Roy began, and went on and on. The Gorkhas, an extremely courteous lot, listened to him patiently. When this reporter asked the person sitting next if he could follow what Roy was saying, the BJP supporter answered that he could because he knew Bengali! — SC

Saintly? Oh no!

Believe it or not, when the Election Commission imposed a ban on their controversial candidate Sadhvi Pragya Thakur Singh for her utterances, the BJP and RSS leaders managing her campaign said, they were actually “relieved” that for three days they will be able to “run the campaign the way they want” and not just act counter to what their “apolitical” Bhopal candidate was saying about who and why and what others were saying to her and why. In the end, it took no less than the Prime Minister to do damage control following her latest ‘glorifying’ views on Mahatma’s assassin Nathuram Godse, BJP chief Amit Shah termed her candidature as ‘satyagrah’ against proponents of Hindu terror theory. And on her emerging as a polarising figure, this is what she had to say “When two Hindus are contesting, where is the question of polarising? I am the living example of victimhood of the conspiracy and custodial violence to prove their fake theory of Hindu terror. I assure you that when I speak the truth in public their true faces will be exposed”. So wait is on for some more gems from Thakur, the most controversial figure of the most acrimonious elections 2019. — VS  

In good humour 

Election campaigning was mostly old rhetoric and sometimes acerbic, but humour was not missing altogether. It was bound to be there with satirists like Bhagwant Mann, who is contesting from Sangrur, being in the fray. Though this time his kiklis from the 2017 election were missing, his one-liners — “jadon jhadu da batan dabonge, jehri cheenh di awaaz ayegi, uh mere virodhiyan di har di cheenh hovegi”. The “daddy se puchunga” answers of BJP star candidate Sunny Deol to each question posed to him, besides his response to Balakot airstrikes, led to many jokes on him.  — RK

Jumbo deflates bicycle’s tyres

The Mahagathbandhan in UP is being touted as a challenger to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s second term in office. Arithmetically, it appears that the Bicycle-Elephant (poll symbols of the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, respectively) combine in the state is posing a tough challenge for Modi. Voters across western UP appear generally enthused about prospects of the Mahagathbandhan candidates. But in Rampur, where SP’s senior leader Azam Khan is in a pitched battle against BJP’s Jayaprada, several voters hold a different view. Engaged in an animated discussion around poll-related issues at a local transport office, a driver with the company said, “Haathi cycle par baith gaya hai aur cycle ka tyre puncture ho gaya hai.”  — MR

Priyanka’s human touch

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra attracted huge crowds wherever she went. During her roadshow in Ayodhya on March 29, a party worker, Vishal Sonkar, brought her a portrait of her grandmother, Indira Gandhi. However, in the milling crowd, the glass of the framed portrait shattered, leaving Sonkar with a bleeding hand. On seeing this, Priyanka immediately rushed to him and applied cream and bandage on the wound. She then asked security personnel to take him to the ambulance for further treatment. Priyanka’s gesture won many hearts. — SN

Stranded! 

Time and tide wait for no man. The BJP MP from Etah, Rajveer Singh, learnt it the hard way. On April 28, he was addressing an election meeting in Kisam Khiraj area in Manjhanpur. The meeting, however, dragged on beyond the scheduled time. The pilot sent him several messages to wrap up the meeting and return to the chopper. Engrossed in the meeting, the MP ignored the messages. Seeing his messages falling on deaf ear, the pilot flew away, leaving his VVIP passenger stranded. Later, the MP proceeded to Lucknow by road. — SN

Bad influence!  

So acrimonious were elections this time that Himachal Pradesh, too, got sucked into the negativity. State BJP president Satpal Singh Satti took the lead in delivering a nasty, below the belt punch on Rahul Gandhi. He was pulled by the Election Commission of India for his unsavoury remarks but he carried on regardless, forcing ECI to issue three notices against him. The Congress leaders, including CLP leader Mukesh Agnihotri, were not too far behind. Agnihotri made some distasteful remarks against CM Jai Ram Thakur and PM Modi. Interestingly, both Satti and Agnihotri hail from Una district, bordering Punjab, and many, in a lighter vein, are attributing their brashness to Punjabi influence!  — PC

One-way traffic 

The switching of camps is rampant during major elections. Usually ,it goes both ways. But the Lok Sabha elections in Gujarat brought in good tiding for the ruling BJP. It was almost a one-way traffic with large number of workers, leaders and even elected representatives of the Congress deserting the party and crossing over to the BJP. In the process of poaching, the BJP not only succeeded in reducing the Congress strength in the state Assembly from 77 to the present 71, it also gained control of five district and nearly a dozen taluka panchayats which had gone the Congress way in the wake of the Patidar reservation agitation in 2015 besides swelling its ranks with scores of the supporters of the deserters also crossing over to the party. — MD


Inputs from Aditi Tandon, Ruchika Khanna, Vibha Sharma, Pratibha Chauhan, Naveen S Garewal, Mukesh Ranjan, Shiv Kumar, Shubhadeep Choudhury, Manas Dasgupta, Shahira Naim, Bhartesh Singh Thakur, Deepender Deswal and Jitendra Kumar Shrivastava. Illustrations by Sandeep Joshi

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