An election of a different kind has caught the imagination of people in Guwahati with its intense campaign, using traditional outreach methods like banners, posters, festoons and the new age mediums like social media bulk messages, WhatsApp broadcasts and audio-visuals (AVs) and not to forget door-to-door visits campaigns.
The tempo and excitement of this election is no less than a civic poll or the college elections, but the contents, the voters and the institution is bit different – its election time at the prestigious Guwahati Press Club (GPC), and it's happening after a gap of 17 long years, and that's what makes this election scheduled to be held today unique.
"We journalists have covered numerous elections, we follow the leaders, write about the mood of the voters, the colorful sides of the campaign, this time the elections to Guwahati Press Club have the same sort of excitement. In India, never it had happened anywhere that a press club could not organize its elections or even its annual general body meeting for such a long period. The last committee has failed to deliver on this. The press club as a space for interaction, recreation and skill development of journalist was diminishing, thus this election was a long due and this time it has happened since young journalists came forward asking for a change," explained veteran journalist and noted columnist from Guwahati Sushanta Talukdar.
816 members of the GPC form the electorate, who will decide the fate of 36 candidates, including eight women for 10 posts, where two spots are reserved for women.
"We cover politics, polity and leaders and elections are big-time for any journalist just like a political party and its candidates since we journalists through our report reflect the voice, hope, aspirations of people for elections which is our democratic rights. But at Guwahati Press Club, with no elections, the democratic rights of journalists, the members of press club were curbed. This time like me, many other young journalists are contesting. This is a healthy competition and we are reclaiming democracy within our fraternity," said Nayan Pratim Kumar, political editor of Assamese news channel Pratidin Time. He is one of the 36 candidates in the fray.
The decision for the elections after 17 years was taken after a group of young journalists collected the signatures of 76 members asking for elections. The annual general body meeting was held and the previous committee that was at the helm of affairs was dissolved.
"We journalists raise the question when democratic rights are curbed, but for close to two-decade there was no democracy within the Guwahati Press Club. There was no accountability on almost everything. We are now contesting elections to create a democratic set up so that the press club becomes a space for creating better media space," said Sanjoy Roy, a staff reporter from Assam Tribune, the leading English daily in Assam. Mr Roy is also one of the contesting journalists.
All the candidates have been going door-to-door, to every media organization, just like regular politicians do, and seeking votes.
The seriousness of the elections lies in the fact that all the candidates have come forward on how they will address the day-to-day problems working journalists face while covering stories to even workspace issues. If someone is talking about free medical insurance and health cards for the journalist, someone else is promising better reaction activities; skill development of young journalists and others has focused on lack of a permanent space for the media fraternity.
"The excitement is huge among fresher and young reporters. Even since I became a journalist, I never saw elections happening at the press club. I never got to know that there is a constitution of the press club. I am contesting this time, and whether I win or lose, I am sure we all young journalists have been able to restore the democratic process in the press club. When we tell journalists from outside that there have been no elections to press club for 17 years, they are always taken by surprise," said Pallabi Bora, one of the female journalist contestants.
"Guwahati Press Club is on an archeological site. It should be on the permanent address. Thus for the past 17 years getting a permanent location for the press club was the main focus and all members had agreed upon. I am not against the election. But they have illegally cancelled my membership and even membership of about 25 more journalists, thus I have filed a petition at the lower court against this," said the former Guwahati press club secretary Nava Thakuria. He had been the general secretary since 2003; the club was set up way back in 1976.
With all elements of a high pitched election, and journalists asking for votes almost like politicians, this election is the talk of the town.