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Do ordinary Indians know their national leaders?

Last updated on: September 19, 2013 09:10 IST

Do ordinary Indians know their national leaders?

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A Ganesh Nadar

With photographs of some of India's top political leaders, Rediff.com's A Ganesh Nadar travelled to the interiors of Tamil Nadu to see if the common man could identify their netas.  

Political parties have begun to gear up for the 2014 elections, but first they have to face the electorate in five states in the assembly elections due later this year.  

The national leaders are busy addressing massive rallies, flying around in helicopters, even while being fiercely guarded by their security cordon.   

They may be sold on their own visibility and recognisability and appeal among the voters, but how well-known are they really in India’s small towns and villages?

A Ganesh Nadar travelled to the interiors of Tamil Nadu -- both to places where the literacy level is fairly high and other places where it is low -- and showed voters photographs of some of our national leaders to see if they could tell who's who. 

For the low literacy area Nadar chose Vasudevanallur, at the foothills of the Western Ghats, about 90 km from district headquarters in Tirunelveli. For the high literacy area he chose Nalumavadi village in Tuticorin district. This village has two higher secondary schools, one English medium school and five primary Tamil medium schools.

The results were embarrassing, to put it mildly, embarrassing for the national leaders, that is.

President Pranab Mukherjee, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress President Sonia Gandhi, Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, Bharatiya Janata Party patriarch L K Advani, BJP leaders Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj were the leaders people were to identify. Thrown into the mix was a photograph of Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan. 

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Image: Images of some of the political leaders shown to voters in Tamil Nadu
Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com

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'Sonia Gandhi heads the government'

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P Irulandi, 55, a farmer in Vasudevanallur, has never been to school. 

“This is Sonia Gandhi, Rahul and Priyanka," Irulandi was bang on. "You know, (Tamil Nadu politician) G K Moopanar split the Congress and formed the Tamil Manila Congress. After his death his son Vasan merged the Tamil Manila Congress with the Indian National Congress. There was a public meeting in Madurai. I attended that, so I know this family of Congress leaders,” he explained how he correctly identified the family.

But he couldn’t identify other leaders from the photographs, but after looking at Arun Jaitley’s photo said, “This fellow looks like Rajiv Gandhi.”

Irulandi also said, “Sonia Gandhi now heads the government and her children help her.”

Irulandi knew the Gandhi family, but not the President, the prime minister, or anyone from the opposition, including the BJP's prime ministerial aspirant or even Bachchan.

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Image: P Irulandi
Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com

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'Who are these other people?'

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Kanapathy, 49, and her husband Natarajan, are farm labourers in Vasudevanallur.

“This is Manmohan Singh, he is the prime minister, and this is Sonia Gandhi, she is a Congress leader. I don’t know what they both do because there is no rain and food prices are beyond our reach,” said Kanapathy sarcastically. “Who are these other people?”

Kanapathy could not identify the President, opposition leaders, Modi or Bachchan. Maybe, we should have used a picture of Rajnikanth instead? 

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Image: Kanapathy
Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com

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'I don't think voting is necessary'

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N Madaswamy, 55, belongs to Nalumavadi village, and is a coconut tree climber by profession. He is uneducated, and has never been to school.

“I don’t know who these people are. I don’t need to know. I have never voted in any election, and I am not going to vote. I don’t think it is necessary,” said Madaswamy.

Madaswamy is as common as a common man can get. He doesn’t recognise any one of the leaders and does not think it necessary to vote. He is happy by himself, and thinks politics is a waste of time.

The irony being, a lot of our educated elite in the cities may also agree with him!

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Image: N Madaswamy
Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com

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'The prime minister does not do anything'

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C Alagesan, 60, belongs to Nalumavadi village. He is a farmer, and also runs a small shop. He has studied up to the seventh standard.

“This man is the President (pointing at Pranab Mukherjee), I don’t know his name though. This is Sonia Gandhi, super boss of the government, this is her daughter Priyanka,” says Alagesan.

“This is that BJP amma (Sushma Swaraj). She makes long speeches in Parliament.”

“This is an actor” (at Bachchan).

“This is Advani. This is Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who doesn’t do anything.”

“This is the BJP's prime minister aspirant, but I don’t know his name.”

“And this fellow looks like Rajiv Gandhi” (at Arun Jaitley).

Alagesan is one of the few who managed to correctly identify several leaders.   

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Image: C Alagesan
Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com

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'Sonia Gandhi is super prime minister'

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P Manthiram, 55, belongs to Nalumavadi village, and makes beds out of palm fibre for a living. He has never been to school.

“This is Manmohan Singh, he is the prime minister, but he is not a good leader.”

“This is Sonia Gandhi, she is the super prime minister. She has not done anything.”

“I don’t know the others. I am not interested, too.”

 


Image: P Manthiram
Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com

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