The election circus
On the campaign trail.
I GUESS we must be progressing as a nation. So what if our politics does not get less fractious or opportunistic, our analysis of it is becoming more techno-savvy, more prolific, more expertly captured in graphics. We can actually link from studio in Delhi to man in Lucknow who is simultaneously linked to men and women in Agra, Etawah, Manipuri and goodness knows where else. All chatting as if they were in the same room. No lost links, no bad audio. Wow.
Some of these towns might not have four good roads to boast of but we have four different exit polls to pin down their voting patterns. And four daily election specials to accommodate the growing tribe of psephologists who can take four sets of figures and read them as if they were one. Since Uttar Pradesh is home to the Sahara Group, it launched an elaborate daily analysis on Sahara TV in addition to all the others.
Another round of elections, and here we are again, a media-rich and infrastructure-poor society, reporters descending on the dirty towns and neglected villages with ill-disguised alacrity, to holler into mikes look, nothing's changed! So did we think it would? We did not. And if it had, it would have spoiled the story. U.P. has to be backward, casteist, corrupt, chaotic. It has to enable us to dish up lines like " This is the epicentre of the Yadav belt." Or "the Lodh voter has shifted away." Or enable us to say wisely, "Majboori se jati dilute hogi." ("the caste element will be compelled to dilute".) It has to lend itself to nice graphic maps, which divide up the State's different regions into blue, yellow and orange. This is Mulayam's stronghold, this one Mayawati's, and that bit over there Kalyan Singh's. But our expert will tell you that these vote banks are shifting, so here's how. More colours spreading over the map. The Muslim vote is an amoeba on a graphic, spreading away from Mulayam towards Mayawati.
India may not be becoming more governable, but it is becoming more analyse-able. Nobody can stop hung verdicts that come with their own complications, but we are getting better telling you why they are hung, why votes don't translate into seats for some parties and do so for others, why Rajnath Singh is looking glum, while Kalyan Singh is smiling and Mayawati positively preening. We may not have a single politician who can fight on issues rather than on caste in this great cowbelt heartland, but we do have an "index of voter concentration" to explain why some of these politicians get as many seats they do. And of course whether they deserve to get any seats at all is entirely beside the point.
And so it is not surprising that at some point the media ends up making itself the story. It commissions exit polls, carries them, goads some politician into deriding them and then spends half an hour discussing loftily why exit polls serve a purpose. Politicians fall into the trap: they argue about sampling and are given patronising examples by a smiling expert. To know if the rice is cooked you don't need to taste every grain in the pot, do you? The politician argues some more and then gives up. He's on their show. They have the last word. "Let a thousand hundred flowers bloom," says Prannoy Roy, getting somewhat carried away. He is referring to exit polls.
Checking the electronic voting machine ... preparing for the polls.
Then there are the little sideshows, triumphantly obtained, and served up through the day. Widows at Brindavan are chasing around, unable to find their names on a voters' list. Hawala is thriving in Azamgarh and fuelling the elections. Here is Vikas Yadav, wanted in a kidnapping case, cheerfully campaigning, even as the local police officer says he has enough evidence to have him picked up. Nobody is checking ID cards, look our reporter got hold of a dead man's voting slip and got all the way to the point where he could have cast his vote.
Amazing that the camera gets in everywhere, including inside the actual enclosure where the ballot is to be cast, scanning the ballot sheet in the would-be voter's hands. Is TV so dazzling that the supervisors inside a voting booth cannot stand up to it? This is dubious democracy, but its democracy on camera. Thank God it's over. They must have meant well, all my fellow news chasers, but it did get depressing thinking about how little will change on the ground despite the exit polls, the endless piece-to-cameras from the back of the beyond on three or more channels, the over-designed studios, the live uplinking, the backroom operations, the graphics, the experts. Doubtless the advertising helped recover the huge costs. They are getting better at selling such events too. Packaged, with a nice sense of history, place and event as "UP ka Mahabharat", as one channel did.
Does anyone doubt any more that we are becoming a copywriter's delight, even as we despair as citizens?
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