On Elections

Elections bring back bitter sweet memories, even though I never contested elections and never will. A common man or a lay person like me watches election buzz with curiosity and it is not right to presume that he watches it with detachment of a Sadhu.

Nah! Sadhus do not watch elections, they are involved. From the days of Mahabharata to this day, Sadhus have shown interest in who governs the society. But more about it later.

It was in mid-sixties when Shiv Sena came on the scene with such a bang that it captured the imagination of many youngsters [as we were then]. I was in my teens then. Anything that is anti-establishment instantly attracts the teenagers and I was not an exception. My father and his friends however were very anti-Shiv Sena and that caused a lot of arguments at home. I was usually told that I have ‘not fully comprehended the issues’ during such arguments and that were the closing remarks.

Speaking of debates on politics with elders, I must tell you an unforgettable experience. A dentist friend of my father who shared anti-SS views of my father, and who used to treat me, once argued with me endlessly and very fervently. I was boiling inside because I could not respond to him – he had done the ultimate action of curbing freedom of speech – he had put a saliva sucker and a drill inside my mouth while expressing his violent political views.

The clash between SS and communists saw two murders, and Dalvi Building suddenly came in to limelight. It was more prominent landmark then than the ugly Ambani house is today. Dalvi Building at Parel was the bastion of the leftists. It was a stone’s throw away from the Institute where I studied labour relations! Dalvi Building was lost to time recently when it was demolished!!

To feel the fever of elections, you have to be in the working class area, or at least in the area populated by the city’s middle class, in that order. Parel – Lalbaug areas in Mumbai where my institute was located, exposed us to the rising tempo of election fever – with speeches by eminent leaders, with loud speakers blaring songs and exhorting people to vote for their candidate. It electrified atmosphere. Contrast this to four leaders from different parties fighting it out on a TV channel with the compere inciting them like a matador, an advertisement for a soap interspersed – the soap not promising to wash sins of those leaders.

In the early seventies, we shifted from Mumbai to Kalyan. Small towns are the places where you feel the election fever, unlike the big metros where it is lost in the daily hustle-bustle of life. Commuters travel by a certain train every day and they have their fellow travellers to talk about politics till the train reaches their destination. Their political discourse is a greater predictor of the election outcome than surveys of TV channels – at least as far as their constituency is concerned. If you travelled the second class, like I did in seventies, you met people who did not read Times of India, but read ‘Navakal,’ a local daily popular among working class. Their choices and perspectives were different, yet they were in a sense, vanguards of good values. They made their ‘local train’ journey interesting by creating some funny slogans, one of them took off on Mukundrao Agaskar, a Jansangh candidate who lost elections twice and was contesting once again. The local train crowd would say ‘Mukunda re Mukunda – donda ki teenda?’ [Oye Mukunda, will it be twice or thrice?]

The political leaders were respectable, not all but many. Atalji was respected even by those in opposition. His speeches were crowd pullers. Jagannathrao Joshi was a huge crowd puller. Election speeches of prominent men often started in Kalyan where we stayed in seventies, at 9.30 pm when local populace would have returned from their work in Mumbai, ate their dinner. They would assemble to listen to issues facing the country at Shankarrao Chowk. The Chowk was in the busy market place during the day, but would fall quiet by 9 pm. People would sit on the steps of the shops waiting for the leaders to arrive. They would take care not to be facing a loud speaker directly so that they would not be disturbed by the high volume of sound.

I saw a somewhat different picture in Guwahati. Many persons, particularly businessmen would hide their cars. Reason? Election commission would requisition it for election purposes. The car came back, if at all, in shambles with all parts making noise. We do not see this happen in Mumbai so we are not aware.

On the Election Day we would go to nearby school to cast our vote. In small towns like Kalyan you met familiar people at the booth. They complained about the election duty. The polling agents smiled at you as if it was going to win them a vote. People made predictions of who will win standing in small groups. Tea vendors [they were just tea vendors then and not any CM’s father] made a brisk business.

The newspapers brought results over two days and usually radio used to beat them to the post. Now TV Channels telecast results instantly. And they do intricate analysis to prove that the election business is a very complex business, although the man in the street or local train as you may like to say, knows that it is all about money. Only money. TV news creates excitement while it is publishing results, but gone are the great speeches and speakers.

Gone is also the election fever. Everything is clinical except the money involved – it continues to be black.