The India Against Corruption wave made me believe that citizens would want to vote for good candidates- This then led to an aborted attempt at standing for Lok Sabha 2014 elections and saw me withdraw even before filing.
Politics is considered a dirty world and continues to be so. The massive anti-corruption movement launched by Arvind Kejriwal in 2011 titled India Against Corruption (IAC) with social reformer Anna Hazare steering it from Delhi, had evoked unprecedented participation and support from across the country and Indians, overseas.
The impact of the campaign was such that it was named the top ten stories of the world by Time Magazine, that year. People in India finally began to talk openly about corruption and how citizens wish for a corruption-free India.
Having participated in my own small way in the IAC campaign in Pune where I went beyond the news columns to pursue my journalism, I was tempted when I was offered candidature.
A new political party comprising of intellectuals and highly placed professionals approached me for candidature for Pune for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Impulsively I agreed in the hope that If I could make a difference, it would be worth it.
Did my candidature create a stir? It largely didn’t, but my friends, acquaintances and well-wishers admired and appreciated my decision, at least on the face of it, and wished me good luck.
Some of them stood by me sturdily and also helped me amplify my campaign. This comprises all members of Nav Bharat Democratic Party and my good friend Suchismita Pai who held `Chai with Vinita’ get togethers in many housing societies and clubs.
While these get togethers evoked interest amongst the participants, it did not necessarily (perhaps, none at all) translate into potential votes. While most of them were very courteous and respectful of my mission, some questions that were often asked, said it all – What can you do even if you are elected as you do not belong to any big political party?
Why don’t you give Modi a chance this time and think of standing in the next elections? Are you BJP-sponsored (you or your party having been paid a couple of crore rupees or so) to spoil opposition votes?
Lesson One: Whoever you are, you have to be stamped first with a well-known political symbol. Voting for the symbol is deeply entrenched in our minds; most do not like to fritter away their vote to an unknown political entity, no matter what the credentials of the candidate may be.
Why would they experiment?
What about money? The Nav Bharat team made tireless efforts to collect donations because of which I was given an office, vehicle and even an assistant who had dabbled in political campaigning for elections. On my part, I appealed for Rs.1,000 donation from people through personal contacts and Facebook. Many of them came forward with some of my dearest friends shelling out large amounts. Generally embarrassed to take even a penny from someone, I truly believed, in that frenzy, that I was applying it to a good, social cause and that me going to the Parliament would help in making my city, a better place to live in (so, very foolish of me). Some of them bluntly told me that they are too broke to give Rs.1,000!
One of the meanest replies to my request for donations from a large entity (who I knew well) was – “we will not get anything in return by donating to you so the management has rejected your request.’’
Another stalwart who I visited, first looked down upon me and stated in no uncertain terms, `why should I waste money on you? Even if I get a whiff – that you have even a slim possibility of winning – I shall myself come forward and give you a donation.’’
A couple of others advised me to confine myself to being a journalist and activist which had a better image in society than a politician. I was suffocated with this humiliation but realised that industrialists and other bigwigs donate so that they can become lobbyists and twist the arms of the government that comes to power.
Lesson Two: Elections in our country are about the nexus between the lobbyists of all kinds and political candidates of well-know political parties. Where does a naïve and straightforward person fit into this bad, bad world?
I for one thought that if you have to represent people, you should be showing what good you can do. So, I steered several civic and social campaigns, using Right to Information, which the local media, that was very kind to me, highlighted.
The issues I highlighted included the water crisis in the city caused by the diversion for agriculture to the targeted vote bank; shoddy state of Pune-Bangalore highway amongst others. All that it did was win a pat in the back for me, no assurance of votes!
Lesson No.3: In India, it is more important to shout and scream from the rooftop about the non-achievements of the opposition and throw one liners – ugly, mean, insensitive and sick – that have the potential of turning into prime time TV debates. People are enamoured by the gift of your gab and not silently taking up any issue amidst such frenzy.
With the humungous Modi wave hitting the country and Pune being no exception, I decided to turn to that traditional voting fraternity which is captured by political parties of all kinds. So, I began visiting chawls of several slums in the city. I realised election time is all about making money for women leaders of these slums.
So, they welcome anyone who is standing for elections. They gather the crowd for you – mainly members of self-help groups but at a price! They will ask you money for serving them tea and snacks – a very important criteria for bringing them to hear you.
So, I quickly realised that in the name of `Haldi Kunku’ (meetings of women during certain religious occasions and political campaigning also being treated such), I was being ripped off of my money. Some women would come forward and say that if you give Rs.50,000 to this guy, he can bring at least 5000 crowd. Of course there was no such money to throw around.
While I was disgusted and withdrew, I witnessed appalling poverty in some of the slums.
A remark by a woman leader of a slum said it all – “this is the first time we are hearing that someone wants to stand for elections to attend to our daily issues.’’
Lesson no 4: The vote bank comprising the under-privileged has been bought over by politicians of all hues and shades. It is bonus time for them. They have become smart enough to get freebies from one and all, be the amount or gift be small or big. What is the value of the Rs.1,000 which is so precious to a candidate like me that you are giving away to these `veteran’ groups of grabbers?
Last but not the least, my husband was a solid support as he said, by doing so, he is lending a hand in trying to change the political scenario of the country for the better, even if it is absolutely at a negligible level. I am totally indebted to him.
However, the question that comes to my mind – the brazen shouting and screeching is for all to see in this upcoming Lok Sabha elections. Will it ever change?
I’ve been talking about this to a lot of Gen Z boys and girls, most of who would be first time voters. Their views are amazing – and all that our politicians do not stand for.
Hopefully, in the years to come, these young minds will change politics in India.
#All views expressed in this column are those of the author and Pune365 does not necessarily subscribe to the same.
That's Vinita Deshmukh, Senior journalist and RTI activist who believes in journalism that reflects the views and needs of the common man.
Get Real And Stay Relevant says Vinita,