Author: Deepa Venkatesan

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13May

After 25 years of conducting polls, I finally voted

 D Venkatesan, 52, government servant, Pune

Government servant

What India has just witnessed is the largest electoral exercise seeking change. I could feel the tectonic plates shifting beneath my feet! I am a common man; middle-class, mid-50s, who goes to office at 8 in the morning and returns home by 6pm. I always wanted to be part of the system by at least casting a vote. It was finally possible after 25 years on April 17, 2014, when I voted for the first time.

I am a central government employee and work for a water research station in Pune. Every time during elections, the expected routine for those few days would be to complete election duty. I have most of the time been assigned to far-off constituencies. And by the time our duty is over, it is too late to even think of casting our vote. There is something called the postal ballot form that get issued; but technical glitches were such that my vote never reached on time. However, this year, fortunately, I was not assigned any duty! The day I came to know that, I heaved a sigh of relief. Finally, I could vote, that too in the most important election, when my country faces a revolutionary road.

Since the past few months, more than politics, government or even office, media has overpowered our lives. I began to feel that there was a whole new side to choosing the right candidate. I began to feel as though the news channels were indirectly telling me every night at prime time whom to vote for!

The anxiety of being a first-time voter after 25 years was there in me. We have seen corruption, unemployment, and a lot of other issues. Change is something that our country needs. That was a definitive ground for me, to understand and cast my vote to the rightful candidate. There may be politicians who use social media to attract the masses, and there may be others who play the blame-game and expose others. I didn’t let any of the ‘limelight’ influence my vote. My vote was a choice made taking into account each and every one’s work.

When I went up to the polling booth early that morning, I noticed a lot of chaos just a few yards away. There was a huge crowd of people, frantically flipping pages of books, trying to browse through. This was the condition in many other booths, because a lot of people were disappointed to not find their names in the list. There had been discrepancies in the way the EC officials had pooled in papers and the list lacked information about a lot of potential voters. They promised to make the changes before the next elections.

Fortunately, my name was there. I had been given a chance after 25 years to be part of the system and feel responsible for it. That is why, my vote mattered. It will, I am sure, make the due difference!

As told to Deepa Venkatesan. This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

Photo: D Venkatesan in Jammu & Kashmir, during an unrelated event.

This story was also published on WoNoBo.com, our media partner.

16Apr

At Murudkar’s in Pune, the festival of democracy is driving sales

At Murudkar's in Pune, the festival of democracy is driving sales. Photo: Deep Venkatesan

Navigating the busy Pune streets in the hot sun is a challenge. No wonder they say if you can drive in Pune you can drive anywhere in the world. As you avoid hawkers in the narrow lanes near Moti Chowk, an orange flag captures your attention. The legend ‘Murudkar Jhendawale’ inscribed in Devanagiri is noticeable.

Owner Girish Murudkar welcomes every political and non-political enthusiast with the same smile and zeal. “This shop was opened by my great-grandfather,” he says with evident pride. “Murudkar is one of the oldest shops in the city that sells paraphernalia for different occasions and festivals.”

All kinds of political merchandise like flags, pluck-cards, caps, badges, uparnas (shawl-like strips of satin), banners, tags, you name it and it is available at Murudkar’s. With Pune’s polling day (April 17) approaching, the shop has witnessed a spike in sales.

Cutting open a small package, Murudkar says, “This is an innovative type of merchandise created by Murudkar’s — aromatic tags with party symbols and names. One can hang these in one’s house or car; the fragrance lasts for up to 25 days.”

With the growing popularity of the Aam Aadmi Party, the Gandhi cap has again become a fashion statement at political rallies. “The demand for different colours and designs has risen more than for normal caps,” he says. “Now every political party wants its own Gandhi topi.” Not surprisingly, the caps, priced between Rs 2 and Rs 5, constitute the single most sold item at Murudkar’s.

One can get various combinations at the shop. “Puneri phetas or pagdis are known across India,” says Murudkar. “We have designed phetas according to every party’s need.” Uparnas are sold for Rs 15-20; phetas start at Rs 800. Prices of party flags vary according to size.

Murudkar’s is not an outlet for the sale of only political paraphernalia. The shop also sells products for specific religious and cultural occasions. But right now, it’s the festival of democracy that is driving sales.

Ask Girish Murudkar about his favourite politician and he refuses to commit himself. All he wants, he says, is “development of the city”. Why, he’s speaking like a politician himself.

Photo: Deepa Venkatesan

16Apr

The women who want to change Pune

Her electoral symbol is a lady’s purse. Her campaign slogan, My Family, My India. If you ask her what that is about, she will tell you it is about family. About making India safe for families.

It is the rising crime graph that made 33-year-old Rupali Nivruti Tamboli, a commerce graduate and a mother of two, think of contesting the Pune election.

“With increasing rape cases in India, I fear for my children,” says the first-time candidate, who lives in Wadgav Khurd, a locality 37 km from Pune central. “I want to make India safer  for my family and all other families.”

Contesting the Maval seat, Tamboli is one of the three women candidates who will enter the political fray when Pune — the cultural centre of Maharashtra and one-time capital of the Maratha empire – goes to the polls tomorrow in the fifth phase of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

Anil Shirole of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Viswajeet Kadam of the Congress, Deepak Paigude of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, and Subhash Ware of the Aam Aadmi Party may be the known faces, but Tamboli, Sushma Pandurang Gaikwad, and Chhaya Tukaram Bansode are the ones who make empowering women their primary focus.

Every issue faced by citizens must be addressed at the family level, Tambolis says, as this is the smallest unit of the country. She believes an individual can make a difference without joining a party.

“I don’t like the idea of contesting with a party, because everyone has their own goals,” she says.

Like Tamboli, Bansode, a 43-year-old homemaker, is an independent. She contested the Pune Municipal Corporation election in 2012, and has been associated with the NGO ’Jivan Vikas Shikshan Sanstha’. This touch of social work got her to think about the daily struggle of women.

“My aim is to empower women and get them justice,” she says.

Bansode had several discussions with her husband on issues affecting the nation. As power plays a crucial role in finding solutions to these, it seemed logical that she should stand for election. So, with her husband’s encouragement, Bansode entered the fray from the Wadgaonsheri constituency.

With no political organisation to back them, independents like Bansode and Tamboli  often have little scope to promise the public anything. But Bansode seems unfazed.

“A candidate with no political support works fearlessly and raises issues on his own,” she says. Her electoral symbol is the pressure cooker. Underlining the significance of the symbol, she says, “A pressure cooker helps women and works instantly in the kitchen. Being a homemaker, I understand the feelings of women and the tough times they go through. I will work the same way the cooker works and gives a helping hand to women.”

Sushma Pandurang Gaikwad, a 48-year-old social worker, is the third woman candidate in the city. She contests Shivaji Nagar.

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