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On the Campaign Trail/Amberish K Diwanji in Jaipur

November 24, 2003

From T N Seshan to J M Lyngdoh, the Election Commission has managed to effectively make campaigning a mellow affair.

Gone are the days of loudspeakers at every corner, posters on every wall exhorting you to vote for a particular candidate, groups of men and women shouting themselves hoarse over the virtues of a candidate and the vices of their opponents, and the numerous vehicles, jeeps mostly, that whizzed around the city and villages with banners proclaiming their importance at least till election time.

Now, there is the concept of a budget: every candidate has a budget that is strictly monitored. Should some senior leader arrive by helicopter or cavalcade, the cost of such arrival and departure is added to the candidate's cost.

And so great is the fear of the Election Commissioner -- and in particular Chief Election Commissioner Lyngdoh -- that a week before voting day -- December 1 -- Jaipur and surrounding areas are still treating the assembly election cautiously.

With budgetary limitations on every candidate's mind, nominees clearly wants to keep the best for the last. They have been loath to spend excessively in the early days of the campaign. 

"Sales have been very low," laments Sanjay Kumar who has set up a stall outside the state BJP headquarters in Jaipur, hawking posters, banners and the like.

Outside the Congress office are a couple of such hawkers, and their lament is identical. "We hope it will pick up," says Om Prakash.

The Congress swept the 1998 election, winning 153 seats out of 200 in Rajasthan. With five more legislators joining it, the party is defending a huge 158 seats. Even party optimists agree that an encore is unlikely. An opinion poll conducted by a local newspaper, Dainik Navjyoti, said the Congress was likely to win between 110 and 125 seats this time, a comfortable majority but nowhere near its current figure in the assembly.

Photographs: Uttam Ghosh and Saab Press. Image; Dominic Xavier

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