|HOME | NEWS | ASSEMBLY ELECTION '98 | REPORT|
|November 24, 1998||
Elections are no longer the party they used to be
Suhasini Haidar in Delhi
Many citizens of Delhi say they are very happy with the low-profile campaigns conducted for this year's assembly election in the city. Unlike campaigns some years ago, there are no posters defacing walls, no loudspeakers creating noise pollution and no large cutouts of party-leaders blocking their view of the sky. The Election Commission's strictly-enforced guidelines and a general depression in the economy have ensured that elections in the capital have become a tame, lack-lustre affair.
In fact, the biggest benefit of the curbs on expenses is that politicians have been spending more time on padyatras (or campaign on foot) in order to spread their poll-message cost-effectively. "Not only are our streets clean, but now the candidate has been forced to come and meet us personally if he wants to get elected. Earlier, we only used to see the candidate's face on posters," says one happy voter in Delhi's Khan market.
But not everybody is enthused by this poll pallor. Babu Lal, a painter who runs a small studio in Delhi's Civil Lines, used to look at elections as boom-time in the past. He recalls how he would paint walls with campaign slogans and stencil party symbols onto walls till late at night as he had more work than he could handle. Within one season, he could sometimes make up to Rs 20,000. That came to an end in 1995, when the Election Commission, headed by T N Seshan banned his 'art'. "The ban has ended my work," he laments, "I have to subsist on small contracts for painting wall advertisements for local businesses and signboards only."
Similarly Balbir Singh, who runs a printing press in Rajinder Nagar, has seen his business drop by 80 per cent in this election compared to elections a decade ago. "In the old days," he says, "We used to complain that politicians would never pay their bills on time. But at least they used to give us printing orders, and would ask for expensive four-colour posters. Now the few that come only get small black-and-white handbills and some stickers printed."
The Election Commission first started monitoring poll expenditure during the 1996 general election. It was an effort at protecting the cities from election-induced damage, and at bringing down the cost of an election. An assembly election could easily cost a candidate upwards of Rs 1 million (on vehicles, posters, cutouts, tents, loudspeakers, etc), a figure extremely daunting in those days to any candidate who did not have large reserves. Today (with inflation and all) the Election Commission limit is only Rs 500,000.
The largest percentage of those expenses had to be disbursed to campaign workers who saw elections as their free lunch. In fact, the party worker is probably the worst hit by the expense curbs. "During earlier elections there used be raunaq (sparkle) in the city. Our party office would be done up as if it was Diwali, " remembers one veteran at the Congress party headquarters on Akbar Road.
Now workers are kept at a minimum during the campaign, and it is common to see campaign vehicles which used to burst at the seams with them, now travelling around the city rather empty. In fact, the Congress's famous 'onion' jeep, which has been driving up and down Delhi's roads with an onion-shaped balloon attached, is seldom seen with more than a driver in it.
So are the candidates themselves happy? Most say they are relieved to not have to collect as much money as they used to. "Earlier the sky would be the limit for expenses, and we could never ask our workers for accounts " says one candidate from South Delhi.
Another local politician and a veteran of many elections, (who asked not to be named) says the poll cost-curbs should be removed. "[The curbs] have just pushed election funds underground," he says as he explains his reservations, "Money that would have gone to a poor painter, tent-wallah or printer is now spent on bribing the voter, providing alcohol before election day, and paying off criminals for protection. In any case where did this money come from? Elections were at least a way of bringing black money hoarded here and abroad back into circulation."
SHOPPING HOME | BOOK SHOP | MUSIC SHOP | HOTEL RESERVATIONS
PERSONAL HOMEPAGES | FREE EMAIL | FEEDBACK