Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Indian Elections: 'Colourless campaigns' in the era of Election Commission's strictness

In my childhood, election season was special. The campaigns were boisterous and colourful.

Loud speakers blared throughout the day and scores of vehicles were hired by every candidate.

The jeeps engaged in campaign would throw pamphlets. The children would run after these vehicles and often got parties' badges and symbols.

But the high-decibel campaigns are now history. In the post-TN Seshan era, the Election Commission (EC) managed to rein in the parties.

The huge expenses were brought under control. It was indeed a positive step. But yes, sometimes, one looks back and recalls how colourful elections were in those days.

In fact, in the recently concluded election, there was such lacklustre campaign that sometime even residents were not sure about the candidates.

While most of the people were aware of the Congress and BJP candidates due to newspapers or their hoardings, not much was known about who else was in the fray [independents, smaller parties].

There were few banners and posters. Contestants were also worried about EC and were over-cautious. They feared that if they were found guilty of higher expenses, then the EC would crack the whip.

Nobody wanted trouble when the model code of conduct is in effect. Officials keep record of all expenses. Recently, a journalist asked an EC official at a press conference about the 'dull and silent campaign'.

The officer said, "Do you like that you wake up in the morning and find your wall painted with a political party's symbol?' The man who posed the question, had nothing to say now.

True, there was huge money involved earlier. Even booths were captured in those days. Now there is enough force deployed that criminal elements and other trouble-makers are restrained. Even though the campaign wasn't too loud, there were banners and posters on prominent places and on road sides.

Surprisingly, the BJP even campaigned in English. This is the first occasion when in North India, [at least in this region], we saw any mainstream party using English in its 'chunav prachar' [election campaign in English, intekhabi tash'heer, in Urdu]. 

Shivraj Singh Chouhan was portrayed as a man with vision, BJP as party with the difference.

Congress listed its own achievements and made promises, as you can see in this billboard in Hindi.

It says what the party has done for Dalits [Scheduled Castes (SCs)] and the Tribals [Scheduled Tribes (STs)].

Other parties were not visible much. A Communist Party of India's (CPI) candidate Shailendra Shaili's poll campaign begins with a famous poet's couplet.

The Communist party candidate who is more active on the ground, has campaigned extensively in Urdu.

Starting with 35 kg ration for every family at a rate of 1 Rupee per kg, it goes a long way in terms of promises.

The CPI contestant wants Urdu given status of a second official language of the state and taking stern action against communal elements.

There is also a lot about the steps to be taken to improve financial condition of labourers, implementation of Sachar panel report et al.

Now the elections are over. The candidates are resting and the fate is now sealed in the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs).

All eyes are now on counting, which will take place a few days later. Then, after a few months, we will all see the campaign for the general elections [Parliamentary polls].

Let's see, how goes the campaigns of political parties then.

[Above are photographs showing Congress, BJP and CPI banners, posters during the Assembly election campaign in Madhya Pradesh. All these photos have copyright of this BLOG]

Thursday, November 21, 2013

BJP honours Muzaffarnagar riot-tainted leaders: Should a national party stoop so low?

For a party that has ruled India, and aspires to rule it once again, it was definitely a cheap act.

Felicitating the party MLAs who are facing charges of incitement during Muzaffarnagar riots, doesn't behove a forward looking national party.

But the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has just done the indefensible. The Congress, BJP CPM, BSP are all different parties because their ideologies are different.

It is understandable. But when a party openly felicitates such politicians, it doesn't set a good example. The BJP wants to position itself as India's party for the future.

Such actions won't help the BJP. Perhaps, it may get a few extra votes through polarisation in the region through its appeasement of the rogue and fanatic right-wing elements. 

But in process it has lost much more. Though there was criticism, the party went ahead with its plan. It was immoral, indecent and unbecoming of a 'responsible' party to act in such a manner. The MLAs--Sangeet Som and Suresh Rana, were garlanded.

They were presented the traditional head gears and were felicitated. Som is accused of fanning communal hatred through internet by uploading a fake video [belonging to another country]. Even after the arrest, one of the legislators was accused of updating his Facebook page from jail, and putting up objectionable material.

A complaint in this regard has also been filed with the police. How can the party take moral high ground over Congress or any other party.

Time and again BJP attempts to take the proper CENTRE-OF-RIGHT position but then it again drifts towards the LOONY RIGHT wing.

Indeed, the party crossed the laxman rekha. It is lucky though in the sense that media hasn't been too harsh over the party over it. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Halwa-Paratha: Have you eaten this mouth-watering Indian delicacy?

Halwa-paratha is a unique dish. You find it at most Indian mela(s) [fairs].

I am sure after seeing the photograph, you would also be tempted to try it.

As you can see in this photograph, the halwa is mouth-watering.

It is sold mostly in makeshift shops on the roadsides. Its sweet thought not excessively and melts in your mouth.

The halwa is garnished and its a delight to see it. The huge paratha that accompanies it is also quite tasty.

The halwa-paratha is a desi dish and  hence comes quite cheap. For Rs 30-50, you can get enough halwa along with a piece of the Paratha.

It tastes great at the shop, when its hot. Some people prefer only the Paratha, which also has a taste different from the traditional paratha. In fact, the way they are made, you can call them 'giant puris'. In my childhood, I visited a fair on a regular basis with my cousin brother.

I enjoyed the visits all the more because as he was fond of paratha, I got to eat most of the halwa, without having to share that with him. Apart from fairs, it is also sold in specific periods during the year. For example, during Shab-e-Barat, Milad-un-Nabi or Id, you may find it in the Muslim localities.

Also, there are high chances that if a Sufi Saint's Urs is being held, there would be the halwa-paratha shop in the vicinity. Earlier also, I had written a post about Indian Fairs and the food at these mela-thelas. You can read it HERE.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Shouldn't Muslims support Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), try it once?

The Assembly elections are round the corner and recent poll surveys suggested that Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Praty (AAP) was now a serious contender in Delhi.

Though the AAP doesn't have a major presence in other states, success in Delhi, will boost the morale of the party.

In in the initial period [post Anna movement], there wasn't much enthusiasm among Muslims, regarding the AAP. It seems the mood is changing now. Finally, a lot of Muslims are now talking positively about the party.

AAP has certainly made a difference in the way campaigns were conducted in Delhi in the past. Also, the party leaders seem to be more open and clean. It will be a positive change if Muslims see an alternative in AAP. For decades, Muslims supported Congress and what have they got in return?


The Sachar panel report revealed the truth about Muslims' socio-economic backwardness. But, years after the recommendations, what has the Congress done about it? Similarly, there is no implementation of reports on communal riots.

Still, Congress acts in such a way that BJP manages to get the arsenal to attack Muslims, and term it as a party that indulges in 'appeasement' Muslims. The trouble with BJP is that it says that its different but its cadre & members of its allied organisations have no love lost for the minorities.

If there is genuine issue of Muslim youths framed or innocent youths booked under harsh laws, the BJP leaders don't even pause and think once but straight want even harsh treatment. Okay, don't 'appease', but at least, avoid targeting or harassing the minorities. Can the BJP do it on a national level?

They are torn between their ideology and the needs of the politics. This differs state to state, leader to leader, CM to CM. So what's the option? The ordinary Muslim, just like the ordinary Indian, expects little from politicians.


What we want is that they won't rob our money, avoid scams, stay away from hooliganism, extortion and work for ensuring transparency in the system.

Even basic demands like improving condition of Urdu medium schools in Delhi or opening dispensaries, ensuring hygienic drinking water & electricity, fell on deaf ears. So, it is understandable that there are murmurs for change among Muslims.

n this regard, some of the AAP leaders do appear to be different and have clean image. The anti-corruption plank naturally appeals to all sections. The AAP deserves to be given a chance. It will help strengthen our democracy also. [Link to Arvind Kejriwal's letter to Muslims]

The fact that there are just two big mainstream parties at the national level--Congress and BJP. Both these parties refuse to change, fail to reinvent and many of their leaders have institutionalised corruption. Isn't this reason enough for electorate to support a third alternative.


In the beginning, there were also reservations among some sections about AAP's stand on certain issues like AAP's stand vis-a-vis reservations for Dalits/SCs/STs. Some persons with dubious credentials are no longer with the party. Hopefully, with party growing in strength, its leaders will make their stand clearer.

If sections of Muslims switch to AAP's fold, it can surely change the complexion of Assembly in Delhi. No group, community or individual should become a slave to any party. There should not be any compulsion to keep voting for a party election after election.

The political system has become stagnant and hence the entry of the men with the broom [AAP's election symbol], might just make our democracy more vibrant. Also, arrival of new party, forces the existing political parties to introspect and improve their functioning as well. In this context, one should welcome the party's presence on the election scene.

Old posts on this blog:

1. The aspirations of minority community and the party's failure. Congress & Muslims
2. BJP's failure in getting Muslim support. BJP and Muslims

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Reasons why Opinion polls can go horribly wrong in predicting election results in India

It is quite easy to make a prediction about results of the election. But the chances that it will come true are little. There are a host of reasons.

First, I will talk about the constituency I live. Here most of the upper caste and middle class population seem to be supporting BJP.

This was before the declaration of candidates. Once the candidate gets declared, the first shocker comes.

They are all speaking the same thing but they won't vote as per their claims of support. The biggest population among Upper Castes* here is that of Brahmins and there is visible [very strong] discontent that neither BJP nor Congress now have any statewide Brahmin leader.

Caste-affect, Candidate-affect

So when Congress fields a Brahmin, suddenly you get to know that the mood has changed. The Brahmins would vote for him, despite supporting BJP or the Chief Minister or the Prime Ministerial candidate. This is just one of the factors which Opinion Polls can't gauge.

Even many of the Muslims praise ruling BJP and its schemes apart from its success in keeping communal riots under check. But many of them would vote for other parties including Congress, Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

When a BSP fielded a Kayastha candidate, all the Kayasthas en-bloc voted for him, though the community in the area was otherwise solidly behind BJP. People in India are smart in a different way. They don't speak up. They are not like Americans who are openly liberal or democrat.

People don't often disclose their preference

Here, people hide, conceal, even lie. Sometimes the change of heart comes after declaration of candidate and sometimes just 24 hrs before the voting. Take another example. In Lok Sabha, the main fight was between BJP and Congress.

Even a day ago, the wind was blowing that certain caste groups or sections would vote for one party and the remaining for other. But what happened on the day of voting. Suddenly, the workers handling the booth management appeared anxious. 

From Congress camp, there were signs of worry. The BJP activists were now happy. Reason was that a third candidate, a Muslim who had been fielded on a BSP ticket, was cornering nearly 95,000 votes! In process, he wrecked the chances of Congress candidate.

Last-minute mobilization, local issues or anger against candidate

Who would have imagined it? He got Dalit votes and also Muslim votes. Neither Congress nor poll surveyors had sensed anything. It was not wave. It was last-minute decision. How it happened? It happens in Indian democracy.

Voter doesn't expect personal favour and has just one right. The ordinary man, poor know when to teach an 'arrogant' politician a lesson. They do it. The same happened in Uttar Pradesh polls. The pre-poll surveys said SP would get 140-150 seats but when results came, it had got 224 seats.

Now what's the margin of error? More than 50%. The BSP's voter in cities often says that he will vote for Congress or BJP. Similarly, SP's voter does it also though he may vote for SP. For two decades, the pro-urban bias is reason that these parties always get less seats in opinion polls.

Apart from this, local factors, the accessibility of politician and his really poor performance are reasons that committed party voter even goes against his heart, and votes against him. Further, polls are urban-centric. The surveys are mostly in cities.

Urban-rural divide, failure to take into account mood in far-flung areas 

In rural areas, situation is vastly different. In city, there may be good roads, power and even basic amenities. But do the pollsters go to rural areas and ask the voter. Far from going to villages, these pollsters don't even go to towns [qasbahs].

Majority of people still live in rural India. In such places, often anti-incumbency may work or may not. If the party and CM has done good, but MLA is seen as a man who only benefited his family or kin, there can a mobilisation among electorate to defeat him.

Otherwise, even wave against ruling party may not work, if legislator or Member of Parliament (MP) has done good job. In certain places, there is no road or even a bridge despite demand for five years. In this case, the MLA or MP has to face the anger, come what may the party or CM's goodwill is.

Yet another fact. TV channel walas may claim again and again that there mathematical formula is correct despite the small sample size of 5,000 or 30,000 [to predict mood of 10 million or 100 million], the reality is that in multi-cornered [4-5 candidates' fight], their mathematics just can't work.

When feedbacks forms are filled from selected localities or fudged

There is also making a passing remark that it was conducted by an agency [so that complete onus is not on channel] and that there is a margin of error. By the time elections get over, people don't remember what exactly were the numbers predicted by particular channel.

The so-called team used to get feedback also go the easy way. Many feedback forms are filled by themselves. That's the normal way how things happen. They go to closes places. A few main markets, a few colleges and on the basis of the trend, fill the remaining forms also.

These things happen across India. So when any TV channel tells you that they have done great work and that their opinion poll was perfect and reflects the situation on the ground, just take it with a pinch of salt. After all, we know it. Don't we!!!

So enjoy the Opinion polls. Do hear what the professional 'psephologists' have to say as these programmes are interesting. But don't believe them completely. Do keep a record and let's check when the electorate gives the verdict.

[*If there are 15% Upper Castes--majority among them being Brahmins, who are nearly 10%. Imagine, what the unexpected shift can do in a contest if a 'Sharma Ji' is fielded. That'll make a 20% difference in calculation. These local factors don't reflect in polls. The exit polls or opinion polls work when there is a clear wave, not otherwise]

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Watching Amitabh Bachchan's movie Coolie, 30 years after its release

Thirty years ago Amitabh Bachchan had got critically injured while shooting for his movie Coolie.

For months he remained in hospital and there were prayers across the country. It was a miracle that he survived.

I still remember the period as newspapers daily published reports about his condition.

In that era, even the children's magazines that rarely dwelt on films, printed special issues with the superstar's photograph on the front pages.

Coolie was released in 1983 [Bachchan was injured in mid-1982]. I was a kid when I saw it. I remembered a few scenes and nothing more. 

In fact, I couldn't even recall the story line. Recently, I again got to see the movie--after a gap of 30 years.

It was a typical formula film of the era. It was still the pre-liberalisation era, when the hero was not a 'Raj Malhotra', who is son of business tycoon.

Today it is unimaginable to have a coolie as a hero in our movies. But this is also a fact that the story line used to be too fantastic.

Perhaps, it was Amitabh's magic, his persona, that he could carry such roles, where the movie absolutely revolved around him.

The criminal, Zafar, comes out of jail and find that the woman, Salma, he wanted to marry, is wedded to one, Aslam Khan. Zafar forcibly takes her away, in process letting dam water flood the locality.

Everyone is marooned in process. Salma who has lost her memory, goes with Zafar [role played by Kader Khan]. Her son Iqbal [Amitabh Bachchan] is also separated from her mother and father.

He grows up on the railway station, working as a porter [coolie].

It was the formula of the seventies and the eighties.

The Angry Young Man grows up with his Hindu uncle, offers Namaz and also leads the Ganpati procession.

There is romance, songs and drama. Also, comedy scenes like making the omelette while hearing recipe on radio.

Rati Agnihotri keeps swapping radio stations--one airing yoga and the other omelette recipe. Like many other movies of the era, Rishi Kapoor is here the side hero, playing the role of a photographer-journalist.

A typical Manmohan Desai movie, it has all the ingredients of the old Mumbai movies.

The 'baaz' [falcon] comes from nowhere every time to save Iqbal or his uncle or the side hero.

There is emphasis on religious identities and the communal harmony among the Hindu-Muslim-Christian characters.

Then, the Coolie's badge, 786, which protects him. Divine intervention also comes when it is needed the most.

From the wish to go to Ajmer, the famous song 'Mubarak ho tumko haj ka mahina...'while the ship taking pilgrims goes for Haj and the green chadar that saves Iqbal, there is a lot of stuff.

Today we call it the 'old formula' but in those days, it worked wonders. A potpourri of all emotions, everything went well at the end.

People getting united because of a tattoo or an old photograph.

The movie stops when the scene when Amitabh had got injured, comes on the screen.

Coolie is a kind of a 'Muslim social' though it is not counted in this genre, as it was basically a masala movie.

Quite a long movie, it represents an era in the Bollywood movies. Critically you can find faults with a lot but this sort of movie can't be made anywhere else, except India.

Here lies the uniqueness of Indian cinema. After a long time, I have rediscovered my interest in movies. Hence, a few more posts may be in the offing on this blog in near future.

[The movie turned out to be super-hit. The first photograph shows the frame when movie was stopped to show the scene where Amitabh had got injured]