25Apr

When India voted, did Mumbai really not care?

Voters crowd around an election information desk in Mumbai's Colaba Causeway. Photo: Patrick Ward

The scorching heat coupled with Mumbai’s humidity did not stop her. Nor did the serpentine queue. Wiping the sweat that trickled down her forehead, Pratima Gupta, 48, was determined to exercise her democratic right to vote. Standing in line at a polling booth in Mumbai on April 24 when the city had its turn at the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Pratima raised concerns over the worsening weather, aberrant to the island city, and sometimes, even the current government.

As a mother of two, the safety of her daughters, the scope of employment, and a stable economy are only a few of the many issues Pratima wants her elected government to resolve, though she acknowledged that Mumbai still has a gloss that other cities lack. “Elsewhere, opportunities are few and the environment conducive for women to make the most of opportunities is lacking,” she said.

But better than other cities or not, Mumbai’s active voters on April 24 still felt there was room for improvement. For women, safety was the biggest issue since, over the last 10 years, Mumbai has lost its famous ‘always safe’ tag. As 20-year-old Rani said, “I am voting today, so that tomorrow I can walk on the road without fear.” And for young people in general, as 24-year-old Akhilesh Gupta said, work was important. “We hardly have jobs. I want the government to generate more jobs,” he said.

But though 11.98 million Mumbaikars share each other’s apprehensions, in 2014, only 51.98 per cent of the city’s eligible voters thought it was important to be part of the democratic process that will determine who rules for the next five years. Yet, this figure is better than that of the 2009 elections, when despite the fury after terrorists from Pakistan held Mumbai hostage for nearly a week in November 2008, the polling percentage was an abysmal 41.4 per cent.

Mumbai’s lack of involvement in the democratic process can be baffling. Even a watchman at a polling booth on April 24 commented on it. “We expected a horde of people to turn out today, but…” he said helplessly, gesturing towards the sparse crowd. Though some part of Mumbai’s relatively poor voting figure in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls can be attributed to mistakes in the electoral rolls – some 15 per cent of the city’s eligible voter population discovered their names were not on the lists – the city does seem to have a too-busy-to-care, insouciant attitude towards elections.

Rahul Phadnis, 24, didn’t even bother to register as a voter because he finds the entire process bogus. “I don’t think any change is going to come my way by voting,” he said. So political apathy is one reason why some Mumbaikars did not vote. There is also snobbery from people who can afford to buy themselves privileges that others cannot, who therefore can’t see a purpose in stepping out of their air-conditioned abodes to contribute to a larger change.

Mumbai is charming, no doubt. It has a bounce-back spirit that the whole country acknowledges, that lets it take virtually anything in its stride.

But that spirit is lacking on election day. And that is Mumbai’s greatest defeat.

Photo: Patrick Ward

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

23Apr

Tamil Nadu candidates come top… in a very different kind of poll

Tamil Nadu, the only state that has all its constituencies going to poll in Phase 6 of the Lok Sabha elections on April 24, has the dubious honour of having the top two candidates in terms of involvement in criminal cases.

Udayakumar S P of the Aam Aadmi Party declared in his sworn affidavit that he has been involved in 382 criminal cases. He has faced 19 charges of attempted murder and 16 charges “related to waging, or attempting to wage war, or abetting waging of war, against the Government of India”.

M Pushparayan, also of the AAP, comes a close second, declaring that he has been involved in 280 criminal case. On 19 occasions he has been charged with attempted murder. In addition, he has 13 charges “related to promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc”.


As well as finishing top of the criminal cases list, Udayakumar is part of the 2% of Tamil Nadu candidates who hold a doctorate, while Pushparayan has no formal qualifications.

Both candidates are prominent anti-nuclear campaigners. Many of their criminal cases relate to ‘disobedience’ and ‘being members of an unlawful assembly’.

The only other candidate to come close is West Bengal’s Sridip Bhattacharya, who has been involved in 58 criminal case.

There are 147 candidates who have been involved in five or more criminal cases. They come from a range of backgrounds. Here is how that number breaks down.



Data compiled by the Association for Democratic Reforms and National Election Watch, based on sworn affidavits from candidates.

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

23Apr

The big match before the final showdown in Mumbai

rahul-modi

The big match took place over two hot, dusty evenings in Mumbai’s MMRDA ground in suburban Bandra Kurla Complex. It was originally billed as being Sonia Gandhi, representing the incumbent Congress, versus Narendra Modi, the resurgent upstart whose bombastic speeches are taking the country — or at least part of it — by storm. A few substitutions later, it was eventually Sonia’s son Rahul Gandhi who wore the Congress colours, while Modi formed a tag team with ally and Shiv Seva president Uddhav Thackeray.

Tens of thousands of people attended both events — and it was difficult to discern which side won on numbers. Either way, it would have been a good night for taxi and auto-rickshaw drivers, as crowds swarmed in from around the state to support their man.

The Mumbai police said it was actually Rahul Gandhi who gained the edge, bringing what they say were around 50,000 supporters, while the BJP and allies had “just” 40,000 for the BJP and allies.

The crowds at the Congress rally seemed younger and more energetic as they stood on the road waiting to enter the rally. People wore the party colours as they swarmed towards the security gates at the entrance to the main event.

Their concerns were widely shared: Modi was a “fascist” without an economic plan, and relied on big business donations to spread his propaganda. But could the Congress win? “Let us hope so, because Modi’s propaganda machine is strong,” said Deepak, an older Congress supporter from Mumbai.

congress-crowd

Sonia Gandhi had pulled out of the first rally at the last minute, citing ill health. But this didn’t seem to dampen spirits too much. People liked Rahul’s more combative speech, as he took on Modi’s “divisive” politics and boasted of how many Maharashtra residents the UPA had pulled out of poverty.

As his speech drew to a close, dozens of his supporters crammed their way into the hitherto tightly controlled press area, pushing themselves to the fence to shake his hand.

Modi’s rally the following day did seem busier, but the crowds outside were more organised as they shuffled their way through the metal detectors into the audience area.

There was less chanting, and fewer people had made the effort to decorate themselves with their party colours than the previous day. But it seemed to be more politically plural — among the BJP members were significant numbers wearing Shiv Sena badges and Republican Party of India-Athavale sashes. Orange and white cut-out masks of Modi were worn by many, of various political backgrounds.

Businessman Deepak Desai said Modi was a man with a “vision”, who stuck to his plans “right or wrong”. “Modi put Gujarat on the world map,” he said. “Things happened in the past with the riots. But to go ahead you have to keep going forward.” He added that there were many Muslims in the BJP as well.

There was at least one Muslim at the rally. But ‘Sameer’ (name changed), a young man from Mumbai, said he was a Congress supporter.

“Modi had bad words for Muslims,” he said in a hushed voice. “I have come here to see him and to tell Muslims what he plans to do.”

A few teenagers were happy to speak about Modi. Why did they support him? “We just go with the flow,” said one of them, before an older man, who seemed to be the head of their delegation, pushed in front of him to explain Modi’s appeal — Gujarat, strength, a bright future.

Modi’s speech seemed to get a better reaction from the crowd than his rival’s. There were bouts of applause and standing ovations, and chanting intermittently erupted across the area.

modi-supporters

His speech was far longer, too, lasting nearly an hour compared to Rahul’s 35 minutes. He wanted India to match South Korea’s standing in the world, he said, and accused his opponent of “poverty tourism”.

Several hundred of those gathering were eager to leave by this point, and started to make their way back out of the enclosure. Others weren’t so happy about that, and cajoled them, with some even blocking their paths.

As for who won, the crowds seemed relatively evenly matched, and while Rahul was in good form he didn’t seem to be able to compete with the bruising words of Modi. Also, while the Modi crowd may have had a more conservative feel about them, their enthusiasm was more widespread.

As the masses made their ways home — on what could be considered, if nothing else, several good nights for taxi drivers — clouds of dust rose from the arena and spread into the Bandra streets. It will settle soon, in a few hours, when Mumbai goes to the polls.

Images: Patrick Ward (the main image is a Photoshop manipulation of campaign photographs)

This story also appeared on Rediff.com, our media partner

23Apr

Crime, wealth, education and gender: our guide to Phase 6

On April 24, more than 2,000 candidates will fight for 117 seats on what is set to be the second busiest day of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Seats are up for grabs across Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jammu & Kashmir, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. Here’s an interactive map (click on states for constituency details):

Here is how the candidates measure up, state by state, in terms of gender, education, criminality and wealth.



Data compiled by the Association for Democratic Reforms and National Election Watch, based on sworn affidavits from candidates.

This story also appeared in Rediff.com, our media partner

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