“ Most congressmen believe they were born to rule. The first family of the Congress firmly believes that ”
On April 17, 122 constituencies will be contested on what is set to be the biggest day of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
Approximately 1,800 candidates will fight for seats from Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jammu and Kashmir, Goa, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Manipur, Odisha, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.
Over 60% of the seats up are currently held by either Congress or the BJP, which makes Phase 5 crucial in determining the fate of the two main parties.
Use our interactive constituency map to see how your candidate measures up in terms of age, gender, education, wealth, and criminal activity. See Phase 5 constituencies in full screen.
The data used for this interactive map is from National Election Watch and Association for Democratic Reforms, based on the sworn affidavits of the candidates.
A Modi coffee mug costs Rs 225 (roughly £2). A Modi t-shirt Rs 100 (£1).
Or you could go for a Modi key chain or a Modi laptop skin, for anything from Rs 229 to Rs 349.
As India begins to vote, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Narenda Modi is not alone in his strategy to reach the Indian voters through political merchandise. Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party has done a commendable job too.
Even as Delhi voted today, the capital city continued to see a scattering of political products in its markets and streets, in violation of the Election Commission of India code of conduct. As per EC regulations, publicity and campaigning should have ended on April 8.
The trend picked up from mid-March in Delhi and several parts of India, with the arrival of Holi, the Indian Festival of Colours. The market was then flooded with Modi water squirters, which carried the BJP candidate’s mugshots, along with his party symbol, the lotus.
The other popular BJP goodie on sale was the Modi coffee mug, which ranged from Rs 225 to Rs 349, depending on the quality you went for. On offer were also Modi shirts, video games, and clocks, mostly supplied by the online store, NaMo.
And the caps. Don’t forget the caps, which were reportedly visible among BJP supporters in more than one place in Delhi even on the polling day today. In the run-up to the election, caps of both the BJP and AAP were available. Mohammed Chaman of Sadar Bazar, who printed the caps, shed some light on the trend in an interview early this week.
“We sell around 2,000 to 5,000 AAP caps as compared to 700 to 1,000 Modi caps,” he said. Chaman said he also supplied Modi bags for Rs 15 and Modi badges for Rs 2.
The AAP caps ranged from Rs 2 to Rs 25. Flags with the broom symbol of the AAP were also available, costing Rs 10 to Rs 50. The AAP badges, priced at Rs 3, sold well, said Rajinder, a vendor in Sadar Bazar, who also revealed that he earned “12-15% profit” on each cap and flag he sold.
A look at the merchandise available online shows the costlier items are the Modi kurtas, silver coins, phone and tablet covers, mouse pads… wait, is that a Modi pepper spray? And surely, priced at Rs 24, that is not a Modi balm? Headache, anyone?
There is business and there’s promotion. The AAP volunteers began the trend, happily giving away caps. Not to be left behind, the BJP followed suit, distributing Modi T-shirts for free.
“Twice I called the supplier to place an order for a Modi t-shirt and both the times it was out of stock,” Singh, an ardent BJP supporter from Govind Puri, said. “Modi sells more because people feel that if Modi becomes the PM, India will be a bigger Gujarat model in terms of growth and development.”
In all this, the ruling Congress party seems to be lagging. Media reports say the Congress products with pictures of vice-president and possible PM candidate Rahul Gandhi are not hot items. Now that can’t be an omen, right?
Photo: Yotsana Tripathi
Last we checked, it stood at Rs 73,952,024 (£732,125), which accounts for 30% of its campaign kitty. Here’s an interactive breakup.
The remaining 70% of AAP donations came from India itself, where over Rs 172,400,687 (£1.7 million) was donated by some 76,073 individuals. (Note to reader: this data may change; check AAP’s donation list for the latest).
The average Indian donation is around Rs 2,266 — or £22.43.
As for the overseas contributions, this was largely through micro-donations from Non-Resident Indians. Around 10,860 international donors contributed an average of Rs 7,386 (around £73) each, to raise Rs 73,952,024 (£732,125).
Raj Redij-Gill, who heads the AAP support network’s global fundraising initiative from Staines-upon Thames in the UK, said social media and digital marketing technologies played a “critical” role in raising money. He said AAP activists had to think differently when the campaign started.
“There was no way we could do a traditional system of gathering money from donations on the ground because we didn’t have the volunteer force,” said Redij-Gill. “So we worked a lot on the global fundraising and this is an area where the NRI team came into play quite a bit.”
Redij-Gill, a digital marketing professional who came to Britain from Mumbai in 1996, quit work to lead the party’s fundraising effort. He said he had to move away from the traditional system of “having a few big sugar daddies who give you a few million and then you are beholden to them”.
“We had a couple of the core team members embedded directly in the technology team,” he said. “So quite a few people outside of India had the experience of working with social media and digital marketing.”
Using NRIs also allowed 24-hour support for the AAP project. “As we were working across time zones it helped quite a bit that we could spread out our volunteer force across the world,” he said.
AAP’s California-based global media coordinator Pran Kurup said the difference between the AAP’s approach to fundraising and that of other parties was “night and day”.
“It’s like comparing mobile phones and mainframes,” said Kurup, an entrepreneur originally from Madras. “One of the reasons we use different techniques is because of the support base we have. Younger people are doing this – many people who have been exposed to the Obama campaign, for instance.
“This idea of online donations has been done previously, even when the India Against Corruption movement was there, even before AAP was born. The process was already started so it was easy to continue.”
Kurup said that NRI supporters of AAP had experimented with different ways of raising funds from the diaspora. “We were able to come out with email campaigns where you write targeted emails like they did in the Obama campaign,” he said.
“We tried blanket emails where you don’t specifically ask for money, and where you ask for specific amounts and see what returns you get. Slowly you can build intelligence into the back end of the system whereby you can analyse the response rate, you know what works, what doesn’t work, and over time you continue to improve it.”
This story was also published on Rediff.com, our media partner.
Many young Indians studying in the United Kingdom say the present Congress-led government has failed India, and see Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party as a viable alternative.
Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat since October 2001, is widely tipped to be India’s next prime minister. An opinion poll predicts the BJP would win half the seats on offer in Uttar Pradesh, which sends the largest number of lawmakers to the Indian Parliament.
“He [Modi] is the sort of leader my country needs,” says Riddhi Kachhela, 26, a television production student at Bournemouth University. “He is dynamic, can take decisions, can speak up, stands up for his people, and can get work done.”
Harshal Choudhary, a student of hospitality and tourism management, agrees. “I have been to Gujarat many times and seen the progress… how he has improved infrastructure,” says Choudhary. “People say he is corrupt, but even if he is, he has done some good things for the people.”
Modi’s growing popularity presents a massive challenge for Rahul Gandhi’s Congress-led coalition. “Gandhi keeps talking of empowering women,” says Choudhary, “but it’s not the solution to all the problems facing India.”
The perception clearly is that the present government has had a long time to bring about change and has failed to deliver. Raj Sekher, 22, a computer networks student at the University of Bedfordshire, says: “People are thinking the Congress has only given them corruption and scams, which is why there is a rise in support for the BJP, but there is rising support for other parties as well.”
Kachhela says,”We don’t want the present government to win because my country has suffered so much.”
But not everyone is positive about Modi. Many have not forgotten the 2002 Gujarat riots, for which Modi is generally blamed. Vikram Singh, 21, an MBA student at the University of Bedfordshire, says: “He should apologise to Muslims for his incompetence at stopping the 2002 riots if he wants to lead the country. India is a secular, democratic country and I think Modi is a polarising figure and this mindset is a threat to our democracy and secularism.”
Shahid Mushtaq, 23, of the University of Chester, says, “He cannot lead the country because he is a communal leader. He was chief minister of Gujarat when thousands of Muslims were killed in riots. There is ample evidence that he gave free rein to extremist Hindus to kill Muslims.”
The clean chit given to Modi by the special investigation team set up to probe the 2002 riots has been challenged in court.
So what is the alternative for those who think the Congress is corrupt and the BJP is communal? Ahtisham Aziz, 20, an aerospace engineering student at the University of West of England, says: “I think AAP [Aam Aadmi Party] is an alternative because they are exposing corrupt politicians and can run the government with transparency. If I get the chance to vote from here I will definitely vote for AAP.”
But others remain sceptical of AAP. “They are not experienced,” says Singh. “They could not rule Delhi, how can they rule all of India?” But he, too, believes they can be an alternative because parties like the BJP and Congress are “corrupt and more concerned about money”.
Siddhesh Angchekar, a product design student at Bournemouth University, says: “Congress has been struck with lots of corruption charges, lots of scams, people are voting for change. There are now alternatives like AAP and BJP. People are essentially voting for hope and there is a lot of hope from AAP.”
AAP recently expelled two of its members for alleged corruption, an act that has impressed many Indians.
But there are others like Ruchi Pandit, 21, who is studying for a master’s degree in advertising and marketing at Bournemouth, who have lost hope in the system. Says Pandit, “For many years people have been voting, trying to make a change. There is no change. Everything is based on influence and bribes. Our politicians say much and do little.”
While they differ on their politics, there’s one thing that all students agree on: that a system has to be devised to allow Indians to vote from abroad. Currently, Non-Resident Indians can vote, but they need to be physically present in their constituency to do so.
Even Pandit, who doesn’t much care which party wins, thinks Indians abroad should be allowed to have a say in the politics of their country.
Photo: Annabel Nguyen
Nagender Chindam is, by his description, a “normal guy”. An average Non-Resident Indian living an unexceptional life in the town of Milton Keynes, 72 km northwest of London.
In January 2014, though, the Chindam did something exceptional: he went on a three-day hunger strike in central London, protesting the Indian government’s failure to introduce absentee voting for NRIs.
Absentee voting is something the 32-year-old IT consultant has been fighting for in the last two years. In 2012, he had co-founded the NGO Pravasi Bharat to campaign for postal and online voting rights for Indian citizens living abroad. The hunger strike was a step-up from his earlier activism on this front. For Chindam, who says he cannot “go more than a few hours without rice”, it was quite a challenge.
Originally from Hyderabad, Chindam has worked in the UK as an IT consultant since 2009. He says his campaign is inspired by the peaceful protests of Mahatma Gandhi. At the time of this interview, Chindam was in Hyderabad to press his legal challenge against the Indian government. He might be running out of time, but Chindam hopes he will be able to cast his vote for the Lok Sabha elections from UK when voting opens. Excerpts from an interview recorded on Skype:
You made headlines in January with your protest in Tavistock Square in London. Why does the issue of absentee voting matter so much to you?
In any democracy voting is important. The future of the country depends on whom we elect, their policies. In January we took a bigger step. That was our last option. We’ve been struggling for two years. We started with writing petitions, collecting some signatures, creating online petitions, and then we demonstrated in London in front of the [Indian] High Commission. Since we haven’t got any response, after a couple of months we marched in London from Tavistock Square to Indian High Commission building. We marched in huge numbers.
We were concerned about India even though we are living abroad. After the march we thought we’d receive a reply. Unfortunately we didn’t get any reply from officials in India. Then we approached the Supreme Court of India in February 2013. We have full faith in justice system, but things are a bit slow because of the number of cases the honourable court deals with here. It might take another one year or so [for the case to be heard].
Why we thought it was important at this juncture is that we have general elections. So we thought we have to raise our voice stronger. We’ve been following all peaceful methods available in a democracy, and we have been following in the footsteps of Mahatma. We are very small compared to Mahatma Gandhi but we have been trying to follow his methodology. So first we did demonstrations, then we did march, then we approached justice, and the final step was to go for a fast.
So it’s basically some kind of bigger step. Three days staying hungry for a person like me who cannot live without rice for a couple of hours. So it was a kind of daring decision. But fortunately three days with the support of our members and all our supporters around the world and their messages, I was able to fast for three days, I was on water. And that sent some kind of strong signals on how much concerned we were about our nation even though we live abroad.
Were you surprised at the level of support you got for your action?
I was really surprised because when we started we were just a couple of guys and it started growing, growing and growing. And in January when I fasted I received messages from around the world. People staying in Dubai, Middle East, people staying in America, Canada, they sent messages to Pravasi Bharat. And there are certain encouraging messages like one person who was staying in Netherlands. He’s an Indian. He is about 75 years old, and in 1970s itself he raised his voice. He discussed with the government and he sent proposals, but it hasn’t gone far. He started appreciating us. So those kinds of words encouraged us a lot. Honestly, I am totally surprised because I am just a normal guy like anyone, just doing day-to-day work, living on my salary.
Every democracy in the world, including developing nations like Pakistan, Indonesia, and the developed nationals like Canada, America, UK, Germany, all these democratic nations have provided an absentee ballot for citizens abroad. They accepted this fact, this is a globalised world, people are moving across the world because of profession or studies or further scientific advancements. Everything is not available under one country, so people are moving across. So these major countries including Pakistan have realised absentee ballot is something genuine.
Being the largest democratic nation, we talk about democracy in our day-to-day life and we the citizens of India are staying abroad for a reason and we would like to come back. It’s not that everyone who goes abroad will stay there forever. We are not talking about the people who are settling there or who are taking the British passport. We are only talking about the people who hold Indian citizenship.
India being such a scientifically advanced country it can send a rocket to Mars, and it cannot provide an absentee ballot or just a simple software? It’s possible, but somewhere something is lacking.
What are you doing in India at the moment?
I was here for our second hearing in Supreme Court, because in the first hearing the honourable court has issued notices, in second hearing court has asked explanation from the Election Commissioner. I thought on second hearing we would get some concrete explanation. If they don’t want to do, I thought we’d get the reasons why they can’t do. Or if they want to do, how and when they’ll implement. With that great hope I came here. The thing is the Election Commission has asked for four further weeks of time to file a proper response. So it’s been about four, five weeks. So we’ll be getting another hearing soon so we are hoping for the best.
Are you hopeful about the campaign?
I am a very positive person. There are elections soon. If we miss [this now], we have to wait five more years. I have hopes of Supreme Court. The district-wide elections [in Andhra Pradesh], there was a case pending in Supreme Court for long. The Supreme Court just last week asked the Election Commission to conduct these elections before the general elections. And Election Commission came back and said it would be very tough because they are preparing for the general election. It would be very tough, it involves lots of effort. But the court said no, no, no, we are capable, these are Supreme Court orders, you have to do it by this date. So within next two weeks they are conducting elections in the state of Andhra Pradesh.
Do you see any opposition inside India to absentee voting – people who think that if you don’t live in India you should not have the right to vote?
I have experienced this when I’m talking about voting rights. Some people say “you guys already left the country”. Most of the people are under the impression that “you guys are not anymore bothered about the nation, that’s the reason why you guys left”.
But it’s not that we have left the country because we have chosen to live somewhere else. Yes, we respect the country where we are living, we learn from the country where we are living, we learn the lifestyle, we respect the culture. At the same time we have gone there for a purpose. For example myself, I have gone there for professional advancement. And there are people who go there for getting master’s degree. Some people who go just for scientific advancement.
There are big names like Laxmi Mittal, who still holds a passport and he is one of the richest guys in Europe. Amartya Sen, he is a Nobel laureate. He still holds an Indian passport. He came back here, he contribute a lot. So I explained, but sometimes, yeah, I feel some kind of opposition as well.
Are you planning more events for your cause in London?
We have done most of the peaceful things we can do. Only thing we’ve left now is indefinite fast. That will not be our option at the moment. I am hoping positive hopes that government will implements this soon. So we’ve no need to do more fasts or more demonstrations. I hope the government has received our message. The only thing now is they need to act. I don’t think there is other pressurising required. Our case is in court. We will wait for a couple of hearings and we are hoping for the best outcome from the Supreme Court.
You can imagine it’s not a simple thing. [NRIs have] 10 million votes, 15,000 votes per MP constituency. There are certain constituencies who will win by about 5,000 or 6,000 votes. So if we win this case, these 15,000 votes will play crucial roles in at least 50 of MP constituencies, which can change the dynamics of the entire political system. So it’s a big project and it’s not a small thing if we achieve. I hope so. I’m praying to God we’ll get there.
This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity. A version of this appeared on rediff.com.