23Apr

The last appeal in Tamil Nadu

22Apr

‘Politicians shouldn’t forget that they are chosen by the people’

The election hung heavy in the air over the wealthy tourist hot-spot of Colaba Causeway in the Mumbai South constituency. Everyone had an opinion, from businessmen to beggars, about who should form the next government in India.

The election hung heavy in the air over the wealthy tourist hot-spot of Colaba Causeway in the Mumbai South constituency. Everyone had an opinion, from businessmen to beggars, about who should form the next government in India and what priorities it should have.

It was often others who started the conversation – would I like to buy a map of Mumbai? Or perhaps a scarf – genuine cashmere? But most people were willing – after some haggling – to give their views on what they want from the candidates they plan to vote for on April 24.

Hitesh Chhabria is the owner of Immediate Boutique and is rooting for the Congress. “People are scaring other people into voting for Narendra Modi,” he said. “He is working the media well.”

Chhabria said he could see the difference a Congress government had made to the area, and wanted it to continue. “I’ve seen India 10 years ago, and I’ve seen India now. There’s a lot of difference,” he said. But he did have his reservations. “Politics is politics, people want to fill up their pockets,” he said.

Boutique owner Hitesh Chhabria is rooting for the Congress

Would he ever think about Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party as an alternative?

“Maybe,” he said. “The AAP is a good thing. But Kejriwal is so small, and they are not letting him jump.”

A South African man who was in the shop chipped in to say he didn’t know much about Indian politics, but  there was only one candidate he noticed thanks to wall-to-wall advertising: “The guy with the beard.”

As we spoke, several dozen AAP supporters, wearing their trademark white caps and waving the party’s symbolic brooms in the air, marched down the street, loudly telling people to give their party a chance in the election. Diwan Chandres, who works for an internet service provider, was part of the procession. “People are very supportive here,” he said. “Everyone is against corruption.”

But does a young party have a genuine chance of winning here? “We have a 99 per cent chance of winning,” he said. That much? “Scientists, businessmen, students, taxi drivers, hawkers and doctors – all over India, people want the AAP and don’t want corruption.”

The AAP candidate, former Royal Bank of Scotland banker Meera Sanyal, might seem a strange choice for the aam aadmi [common man]. Her website even includes a quotation from Ayn Rand, a favourite of the right-wing Tea Party in the US. But that didn’t seem to make a difference to many on Colaba Causeway. In fact, the AAP was the most visible party on the road, with dozens of street merchants proudly wearing the official cap of the party.

Further along the road, Preety Virle was behind the counter at the Himalaya Wellness health shop. “All the parties are the same,” she said. “But you have to vote — that’s our right. I would like to try the Bharatiya Janata Party. We’ve had Congress for 10 years, but no change. I want to get inflation down. For working class people like me, our salaries are so low, we find it very difficult to cover our basic needs.”

Another person finding life difficult was Laxmi Jadhu, a beggar. She was carrying her small baby as she asked people to buy her milk powder among the busy market stalls. “I will vote, but I don’t know for whom,” she said. “I just hope the new government will do more for poor people. But I don’t know who will do that.”

Dipa Tambe, from the John Player clothing shop, said he just wanted to see some results from politicians on issues like pollution in the city. “Some of them are cheaters, some are good,” he said. I asked him to name names. “The Congress is good, and AAP have good people,” he said. “But we will only know after the election.”

True to the entrepreneurial spirit of the street, several people I spoke to said they had no opinion at all about the election — but that they might develop one if I bought whatever they were selling.

Two men, who asked not to be named, said their stall had been confiscated by the police that morning — and were angry that, they believed, the only way to get their stock back would be to “pay under the table”. They did not want to be drawn into a discussion about who they would vote for, but said corruption was a big issue for them.

“I will tell you everything if you buy us some beers,” one of them said. I thought that perhaps that wasn’t the best way to get the story, and declined.

It was starting to get late, so I got into a cab and went to Marine Drive to speak to some of the people lining the bay, sitting on the wall taking selfies against the sunset and buying fruit juice from street vendors.

The sky turns a pinkish hue as the sun sets over Mumbai's Marine Drive.

Mohammed Asif Gandhi, a young mechanical engineer, was tapping away at his laptop when I interrupted him. “I’m not very interested in the election,” he said. “We just need the right sort of people, but so far it hasn’t been encouraging.”

He was annoyed the focus on the election seemed to be negative campaigning. “They need to do the job properly, but many politicians don’t focus on the job. They just try to focus on the negative points of others.” Gandhi added his vote would go to a person, not a party — but he preferred to keep exactly who that was to himself.

Also wishing to keep their voting intentions to themselves were Sandhya and Brij Gupta, both government workers. Sandhya said she was disappointed that more people didn’t take the time to vote, but was happy turnout was higher this time round.

“Everyone should do their best,” she said. “But politicians shouldn’t forget that they are chosen by the people.”

Photographs: Patrick Ward

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

21Apr

India tourism spots an opportunity in the elections

Lok Sabha elections: Narendra Modi file nomination from Vadodara

With India in the throes of a general election, and the world watching with interest, the country’s tourism industry has spotted an opportunity to draw the maximum benefit. Backpackers are being lured by electiontourismindia.com not to see slums but to witness the world’s biggest democratic exercise. After all, few spectacles beat the experience of watching a politician gear up for the big contest or make that charged speech at a huge rally.

The website, brainchild of India Tourism Development Corporation chairman Manish Sharma, has been developed in collaboration with travel agents worldwide and offers packages that include interaction with political parties and attendance at propaganda events. Sharma believes these ‘poll tourism’ packages give foreigners the opportunity to explore India’s vibrant democracy which accommodates different cultures.

Some of the website’s interesting offers are the Democratic Triangle Package, which is a six-day visit to Jaipur, Delhi and Agra, and Political Rajasthan Royals, which begins from Delhi and takes tourists through Pushkar, Jaipur, Jodhpur, and Mount Abu before ending at Udaipur. This package is an eight-day tour.

Other packages are Heritage Hub and Golden Triangle which take tourists through other fascinating destinations of Rajasthan and Delhi for eight days. A spokesperson for the website said many foreigners have registered for about $1200 for these packages. The spokesperson said at least 800 tourists had signed up to watch the election process and ITDC is expecting more as the elections enter the last leg.

These packages are being promoted in the US, UK, France, Germany, China, UAE, Singapore and many other countries.

On the flip side, the elections have brought down the number of Indians who are traveling abroad. However, the outlook for this year as a whole remains bright, according to Sunila Patil, founder and co-owner of Veena World, an upcoming travel company.

“There is a mild drop in [foreign travel] as people are choosing to vote before going off on a holiday,” she said. “[But] May is a promising month. Summer vacations of children start in mid-April, so outbound tourism rises after that. So the dip in April will be made up next month.”

Patil added that in the last few months there has been a rise in domestic travel in the northern states of India, though not for political reasons.

Photo credit: NisargPhotography via photopin cc

21Apr

Why actor Rakhi Sawant entered the fray (straight from the horse’s mouth)

It’s because the people asked her to – and she just couldn’t disappoint them.

“I have been virtually mobbed by people demanding I should fight the elections,” Bollywood actor Rakhi Sawant was quoted as saying. “So here I am.”

Thirty-six-year-old Sawant, who is contesting the 2014 Lok Sabha elections as a candidate for her newly formed Rashtriya Aam Party, will fight it out from the Mumbai North-West constituency. Her opponents? Congress’s Gurudas Kamat, Shiv Sena’s Gajanan Kirtikar, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena’s  Mahesh Manjrekar and Samajwadi Party’s Kamaal R Khan.

The actor said she was offered a ticket by the BJP to contest from Srirampur in West Bengal, but chose to stand from Mumbai. Why? Because she speaks Hindi and Marathi, Sawant said, not Bengali — and also because she lives right here in Mumbai.

Curiously, Sawant has declared she is illiterate — although she attended the Goklibai High School in the Mumbai suburb of Vile Parle, and later the Mithibai College, also in Mumbai.

Sawant’s entry into politics has raised many eyebrows. The ‘item girl’ image from her Bollywood career and a series of controversial — some say bizarre — statements have not helped build her case as a serious politician. Nor has her attempt to promote her party symbol, a green chilli, by wearing an all-green attire.

That said, you have to credit her for making an attempt to stand up for what she believes in. Sawant says she will give her last drop of blood to serve the “dukhi janta“.

At the end of the day, entering politics requires guts. Entering politics as the lone candidate of a party that you formed yourself requires even more guts. So leave Sawant alone, will you?

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

21Apr

‘India before Independence was the best. I miss it. I miss the old times’

Boman Kohinoor, 92, restaurateur, Mumbai

Boman Kohinoor loves India before Independence

My father started this restaurant in 1923, the same year I was born. It was the British rule then, and the Municipal Commissioner of Bombay was British. Whenever he saw any business with a British name, he got happy and granted permission to open it. That is why my father named this Britannia & Co.  

I have been running this restaurant [in Fort, Mumbai] for 75 years now. I have seen India before Independence. And Gandhiji. I used to go with my best friend to fight Gandhiji. Why? Because he wanted Partition, and we didn’t want Partition. He said, I want freedom. We used to tell him you will get freedom, but why do you want Partition? He used to say, ‘After I die, you will get freedom. I want freedom in my lifetime.’ 

Gandhiji gave his life for freedom. And we are free now. But every day there is trouble. All our jawaans [soldiers] are being killed. The political system in India is deteriorating.

I never vote. Never, never. For these politicians who are always fighting each other, killing? Never.

The other day Udhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena and his cousin, Raj Thackeray’s MNS [Maharashtra Navnirman Sena] party went to file nomination papers. They fought outside. With stones. And they hit a policeman. Seriously injured him. This is hooliganism. We got freedom for all this? We are free to hit each other?

This is a very sorry state of affairs. These people are not fit to rule. They are not statesmen. They are hooligans. A statesman has to govern a country. There was a new fellow, recently, who talked a lot. He got elected as the Chief Minister of Delhi, [Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind] Kejriwal. What happened? Only 49 days.

No one in my family votes. Never. I don’t like politics. Right from childhood, I took a hatred to politics. I used to read that politics is a dirty game. And really it is a dirty game. People tell me to join it. But I don’t want to. I don’t like all this, and I am also too old.

Boman Kohinoor has run this restaurant for 75 years now

India before independence was the best. I miss it. I miss the old times. I sent this note to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth. I said I wonder why Pandit Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi and thousands of other freedom fighters took the trouble of throwing the British out and declaring India independent. So many lives were lost, so much trauma endured on account of the Partition. Wouldn’t it have been easier and more expedient to simply grant Indian citizenship to the British? After all they lived in India for over 300 years. I am sure British wouldn’t have been averse to this if it had ensured the continuance of the Raj.

It’s still not too late. Let’s recall the Brits. At least they proved themselves able administrators. Let’s show the world how truly tolerant and liberal we are. It is of course unlikely that, given our penchant for xenophobia, the Brits would agree. But I’m sure if we apologise to them nicely for our crass “nationalism”, they — like Sonia [Gandhi, the Congress president] — would ultimately relent.

As told to Rachitaa Gupta. This interview has been edited for clarity.

Main photo: Boman Kohinoor with Project India reporter Rachitaa Gupta

18Apr

The men (and women) you voted for in the first 5 phases

A breakdown of candidates in the first five stages of the election offers a fascinating insight into the declarations made by this year’s Lok Sabha hopefuls. Here’s a data visualisation — the results might surprise you.

Criminal cases

See the proportion of candidates with criminal cases against them by party and by state. The interactive graphics also show those with serious criminal cases – which includes murder, rape and robbery.

Candidate assets

The chart shows assets held by the average party candidate.

Gender

The majority of candidates so far have been male (92.7%) – just 7.29% are women.

Education

Now a breakdown of candidates by their educational achievements. Just over half are educated at degree level or above.

Age range

Finally, a wide spread of ages for candidates. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most common age group is 41-50.

Information on 3,305 of 3,355 candidates was analysed. 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.

 

17Apr

In a Mumbai constituency, a Congress candidate counts on the poor

Congress politician Priya Dutt at a rally in Mumbai. Photo: Patrick Ward

Against the background of an apparent Bharatiya Janata Party resurgence, it was a chance for the party faithful to rally together. And in the Mumbai north central constituency, Congress members seemed confident that incumbent Priya Dutt could defeat challengers from the BJP and also those who might split the anti-BJP vote — the Aam Aadmi Party and the Samajwadi Party.

The inauguration of the Congress election headquarters saw hundreds of supporters cram into a makeshift meeting place by the side of the road in Kalina, a western Mumbai suburb. There was little applause. But people seemed to welcome the speeches from top party figures, including Dutt herself and Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan.

Before the event, Dutt, the sister of Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt, said the campaign was “very hectic and very good”. She dismissed worries about the challenge from a resurgent BJP, but also the Samajwadi Party and the AAP.

“The AAP won’t make a huge difference,” she said. “This time people are much more aware of what is happening and who they are voting against. They can see the vote is not divided — they are clear-headedly considering their vote.”

Dutt’s rivals are focusing on what they say is her lack of engagement with her largely slum-residing constituents. They claim she has done little to improve conditions in an area in sore need of improved infrastructure.

“I will be honest, all the other candidates don’t live in the area,” she said. “They had nothing else against me. A lot has been in the media in advertising, a lot of negative campaigning.”

Dutt reeled off a list of her regular engagements: Six months a year at the Lok Sabha in Delhi; work for her charitable trust; attending her monthly medical camps; working in her office for four hours a day when she is in Mumbai; listening to her constituents raise concerns at public meetings.

“I fail to see how they corroborate that,” she said of her opponents’ criticisms.

At the rally, Dutt could be seen rushing on and off stage, directing her followers as masses of people pushed to be near the speakers. Lines of white-clothed party volunteers tried to hold crowds in place, sometimes resulting in altercations as people wandered in from the street.

Under floodlights, it seemed that her supporters were as committed as ever — despite the event starting several hours late and more than one scuffle between members of the packed crowd.

Many of those present focused on what they said was the misleading focus on Narendra Modi’s leadership of Gujarat. Abdul Rahim Khan was among the party faithful, having previously worked as a leader in the Youth Congress. He was upbeat after the rally and ready to offer the party line.

“Congress has done a very good job here,” he said. “Most of the development in India comes from Maharashtra.”

He accused the BJP of misleading the public about the so-called Gujarat model of development. “They have paid money to PR campaigns,” he said. “The same progress was done in Maharashtra with a Congress government.

“Modi is similar to Hitler and Goebbels,” he added. “If you say a lie 100 times, and hope it will be true. They want to make a separate India with something special for the majority and nothing for the minority.”

Businessman Imran Khan was also enthusiastic, and shrugged off claims that the SP and AAP could split the Dutt vote.

“People know she is the strongest candidate in this area,” he said. “The election is going very well for us.”

Hitesh Singh, a young Congress supporter, said the focus on a BJP win was because BJP leader Narendra Modi “is hypnotising the people”. He was optimistic of a Congress win, though.

“Our work is going on properly,” he said, adding he was sure local people would see through opposition claims about his candidate.

As the event drew to a close, Chavan was quickly escorted away by his security entourage, shoving aside the assembled mass of well-wishers, reporters and party volunteers.

Dutt was surrounded by supporters. They all made their way into a small room in the headquarters, decked with maps of the area, to plan for the last stretch of the campaign.

As the chairs were collected and people started to drift off home, an older man, Satrikas, remained. “All the people were here today, this is a very important election,” he said.

Did he feel confident of a Congress victory? He shrugged.

“I don’t know who the next prime minister will be.”

Photo: Patrick Ward

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

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