Monday, May 4, 2009

Power & Politics / Mail Today, May 4, 2009

VOTERS in 369 constituencies have already decided on their next MPs and while the winners will be known on May 16, there is one clear early winner: voter apathy. How ironical that those who believed that voting was someone else’s problem are the ones who are shedding tears over the low voting percentage.
Across the country, half the registered voters failed to show up at the polling booths. Even the choreographed appeal by the glamour crowd failed to enthuse their own blood group in a city like Mumbai where voting was at its lowest ever. The rich and the mighty and the bold and the not- so- beautiful have been leading the attack on “ dirty politicians” ever since that dreadful Wednesday night in Mumbai in late November. This time too, they arrived at polling booths, leashed Boxers or German Shepherds in tow, cast their votes and displayed their middle left finger to eager TV cameras.

Yet they could not get their friends, relatives or fans to brave the summer heat. City after city and village after village turned its back on the politicians. The high profile campaigns by the Gandhi Parivar seemed to have had little effect on voters in Amethi and Rae Bareily who stayed away in large numbers. Never before has the Great India Election pageant been so listless. Now there are as many excuses for the low polling in each constituency as there are candidates.
Despite the hundreds of aircraft and helicopters at their disposal, the leaders of six national and 40 odd state parties were not able to mobilise and motivate even their own workers. I didn’t cover this election as extensively as I have done earlier ones but after brief visits to Lucknow, Mumbai and Ahmedabad during the past two weeks, it left me with the feeling that the fault lay with the parties themselves. Committed workers have been replaced by hired hands. Local leaders with tremendous grassroots networking skills were ignored by the national leaders and parties who have outsourced their campaigns to advertising and marketing agencies which work for multiple clients and whose main objective is not winning elections but showing healthy balance sheets.

As a result, party workers feel betrayed and left out and are happy doing a 10 to 5 campaign. A senior leader told me it is now becoming difficult to expect even a district president to work for a candidate unless he or she is paid money — in advance and in cash. Local leaders demand money because they see their leaders spending huge sums for their five star rooms and air- conditioned cars during the campaign. In some cases, contracts were handed out on caste or community basis or to local dons to ensure a certain number of votes were polled in every booth. To give credit where it is due, the cadres of the Left parties still seemed willing to bear the heat and dust of the elections. Others chose the new election model where no campaign is complete without an aircraft and a couple of choppers and the status of a leader is measured in terms of air miles accumulated and not the number of workers mobilised by him or her.

This has led to a disconnect between the leaders and party workers which has now percolated down to the voter. Clearly, the corporate approach to the elections has failed to increase the market share of political parties or leaders. As in business, there is a recession on in politics and the net worth of some of the top notch leaders is plummeting faster than the Sensex. I have a suggestion. Along with names of candidates, the EVMs should also have an option “ None of These”. Voters will surely come out in large numbers to register their anger.


dr alokanand said...

respected prabhu chawla ji,I feel that the election campaign for general election 2009 was the worst one.None of the parties bothered to tell the voters,how they will tackle
1 Terrorism ,both external & internal
2 Economic slowdown
3 Unemployment and poverty
4 poor power supply in country
5 Infrastructure development.
These are a few burning issues which deserve lot more attention and election 2009 should have been ideally fought over these issues.
To utter dismay this election campaign came out to be ADVANI Vs MANMOHAN only ,plenty of dirty comments were said ,hate speeches given and the model code of conduct of election commission was shattered again and again.I just wonder what sort of govt will emerge from this issueless election and what it will contribute to Indian democracy ??Probably again a weak and fragile coalition is awaiting us with an impotent PM and oppurtunistic coalition partners ready to suck blood at every possible situation.Today on 7 may mulayam singh openly said that he will support any coalition which will dismiss mayawati govt in UP and veerappa moiely says that mayawati govt should go.Then why didnt congress dismissed maharastra govt when 26/11 happened ???politics at its dirtiest and lowest level to say the least.This is also the reason why voters are not turning out in urban areas .

I, Me, Myself ! said...

The first thing I learnt from this election is that the apathy of the urban voter needs to done with. I mean, seriously, they need to understand the system better. They need to participate in the system better. The perception that all is ill in this country is more entrenched into the mind of the urban voter, primarily because he never has to fight for the basic needs that more than 50% of the country yearns for. And therefore it is necessary for him to understand the actual working of the system and appreciate the intricacies involved instead of forming an opinion with peripheral understanding.

Contrary to what many of them think, this country has not and will not to go to the dogs. This country can be made a much better place to live in, provided one stops to think in abstract terms. The urban voter can contribute to nation building by participating in many social activities.

Sadly, this disenchantment arises partly due to the coverage of this election by the English visual media too. They don’t cover the issues threadbare. They often cover only statements made by the politicians that make the viewer angry. What Sonia said about Lalu, what Lalu said about Advani, what Advani said about PM, what PM said about Nitish, what Nitish said about Modi, and what Modi said about the media dominated the news more than what these politicians were actually focusing on. Listen to their full speeches, and you will be astonished as to how the media, for most of the time, just choose to report the most irrelevant pieces from their speeches. What should have been aired was the actual issues, instead we had to constantly listen to what every other leader thought of the PM candidates in 2014!!!

One channel even had a discussion on whether the “real” issues are forgotten by political parties! Well, after listening to most speeches of the leaders, I think it is the media that needs to take the blame, and not the parties. And quite naturally, the urban voter who follows these news items gets frustrated with the system. Instead of presenting information in its entirety, the media is gladly assisting in adding fuel to the fire. The rural voter attends political meetings, and gets to listen to full speeches. His participation in the election process is something the urban voter needs to emulate.