How is it that a political journalist never tires of covering elections? The characters may change now and then, but isn't it the same story of votebanks, caste and poll promises? I might be persuaded to agree if it weren't for the recent Rajya Sabha elections, and before those, the election in Gujarat. and yes, of course, the ones in Haryana as well. For instance, how can you resist the story of how independent politician Raja Bhaiyya deals with his nemesis. Mayawati? Does he vote for her candidate because the man who made him a minister, that is Akhilesh Yadav, demands it? Or does he surreptitiously betray Akhilesh Yadav because a Rajput can never forget his hurt, and has to avenge Mayawati throwing him into jail for terror charges?!
Yes, whether it's this one or the late night drama and tug-of-war between the two A's- Amit Shah and Ahmed Patel - or the victory due to faulty pens in the Haryana elections, there's always a hook if you look for it in the polling ring. Even on the Rajya Sabha elections where we don't get to vote and often, the candidates are obscure personalities. That's why Rasheed Kidwai's book Ballot is a great reminder of some wonderful aspects that we may have forgotten. Did you know, that:
1) The Godrej company played a key role in the first election of Independent India in 1951-52. Pirojsha Godrej's very important role was to produce the steel ballot boxes: 1.2 million of them so that there could be one for every candidate in every polling station. The factory to deliver this mammoth task was in Vikroli and their deadline meant producing 15,000 boxes in a day.
2) Phulpur, whose bypoll result has caused quite a dizzying ray of hope for the opposition, was apparently always an interesting one to watch. The Congress candidate may have lost his deposit in this election but in that first election, one of the challengers to Jawahar Lal Nehru was a gau-rakshak called Swami Prabhu Dutt Brahmachari. Backed by the Hindu Mahasabha, he alleged that Nehru was allowing cow slaughter in India. He managed to only get 56,719 votes, which was significantly less than the 2.3 lakh that Pandit Nehru received.
3) Just as the BSP and the SP alliance was unimaginable and unforeseen (apart from the one forged in 1993, of course), apparently there was also one unofficial understanding between the Congress and the RSS before the 1984 election after Indira Gandhi's assassination. Kidwai writes of a secret meeting between Rajiv Gandhi and then RSS chief Balasaheb Deoras which led to the cadres supporting the Congress and the subsequent mandate of 415 out of 543 seats. Guess who denied this? The BJP, of course.
4) After Rajiv's death, it wasn't just Arjun Singh or Narasimha Rao that were battling it out to being elected as the head. Apparently, one of the most interested parties was a constitutional head himself. Vice President Shankar Dayal Sharma was the choice for many Congressmen and apparently, he was quite keen himself before Rao edged him out
5) There's talk of early elections in the air but it doesn't always turn out to be as one expects. As Exhibit A, the 2004 elections which were held six months earlier because the NDA government wanted to cash in on what they saw as Vajpayee's all-time high in popularity. Apparently when the Election Commission announced the dates in February 2004, the Congress thought it was doomed.
6) The Congress was relying on opinion polls for much of their calculations and apparently, one said that Vajpayee was far more popular than Sonia Gandhi in many constituencies. Apparently, that was what led to Rahul being fielded from Amethi to boost the anti-Vajpayee arsenal.
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