Poll musings

I normally never get over excited during election. Often I only realise it is election time when posters and banners (thankfully not many now) are erected or when politicians gather in car convoys while one is going to work or when noisy cavalcades headed by drum beaters and preceded by party workers handing flower garlands to bystanders urging them to loop them around the already garland laden neck of the candidate who normally walks in a trance hands folded and a beatific smile on his lips. The whole thing looks farcical and makes me wonder how such a parade helps voters in deciding who to vote for. Today's voters, even the illiterate ones are quite savvy though a bottle of hooch and a roasted chicken led could make them vote for you!

This time, I was reminded of forthcoming elections well in advance when two uniformed  cops landed home with a letter asking that I deposit my gun (before I go further I must state that I inherited a small pistol that pa gave mama way back in 1950; I do not think it has ever been fired. For me it is simply a memento of my parents and I have no ammunition. It have not got rid of it because I do not want it to in the wrong hands.) at the police station till the end of elections. This has never happened earlier and I wonder how it will help in containing violence when there are so many illegal arms around. Anyway this is just to tell you how I became aware of the Delhi elections well before the posters and cavalcades.

I have normally voted each time I have been in town and on the list, as being on the list has varied from election to election and all my efforts have not got us a voter's card yet! Anyway let us see what happens this time. What I know is that I am no more the candid and naive person who voted with stars in her eyes. I did come from a nationalist freedom fighter family and Congress was the house mantra. My husband use to make fun of us by saying that in our home even the ants were Congress followers. My childhood had been replete with freedom stories that were more than real as the protagonists were my own blood and flesh. Congress was a hallowed word. When still a little girl I came to know that Pandit Nehru was the one to have coaxed my father to leave his judicial career in Mauritius and join the Indian Foreign Service. I still remember the breakfast we had at Teen Murti House where I was witness to Nehru's proverbial temper as the omelette he was served was overdone. When I came to voting age there was no question of my not voting Congress.

The next chapter of my 'political' life was when I was called upon to be Mrs Indira Gandhi's interpreter and was interviewed by her. When she came to know I was Kamala's daughter she laughed and said had she known that she would not have bothered to call me. Being her interpreter revealed a very humane side of this iron lady. I remember her being the only dignitary I interpreted for who made sure that I was fed, even if that meant a few minutes delay in the programme. I must admit I mastered the art of eating faster than I do and that is saying a lot. When I accompanied her to Srinagar in May 1974, I was clueless about the weather in Kashmir and no one had told me it would be cold. I just went with Delhi summer clothes. When we got off the plane she saw me turning blue and asked me if I had any warm clothes. I told her I did not but would get something. When I reached my hotel room I found a shawl and one of her legendary capes on my bed! There are many more instances. Maybe I will write about them some day as I had the occasion of working closely with her in many international summits and conferences. Needless to say I still voted Congress.

Having launched myself as a Conference Organiser, I was asked to organise a Youth Congress North South Dialogue which was as sort of coming of age for Rajiv Gandhi. The bond we established over an argument about the placing of India delegates to ensure that Iraq and Iran would not sit together, an argument where he took my side would last till the day he was assassinated. I would work for the Asian Games (these too merit a book) and then spearheaded an evaluation of the 20 point programme across India and finally was his letter writer after he lost elections till he died. Those years showed me the innards of politics and it was nothing short of ugly. My heart was still Congress but somehow I did not vote for a few elections.

I could not have voted BJP. Any party that can whip up enough hate to break a house of God could and can never get my support. Any one who breeds hate is not for me. The options were few. In one election I even exercised my right not to vote but that seemed futile. Even the NOTA button heralded as a big thing does not make any difference unless there is some action if and when NOTA votes are above a certain percentage.

By now I was no more the starry eyed. I had not only seen the inside of a political party but also the reality on the ground, the false promises, the hijacked social programmes, the state of the schools run by the Government, the total lack of health facility for the poor, the inhuman conditions in which families live in the haphazard slums that erected any and everywhere, even next to factories that spew chemical laden water and smoke. I have seen how the children of this country have been let down, I have seen the political dramas enacted time and again and played for the media gallery. I have seen that nothing changes. So how does one bring about change?

In the forthcoming elections there is a new party the AAP that is fighting its election honestly, I hope, with candidates and issues we relate to. But how will they perform once in power. Power corrupts. That is a sad but true statement. However this time people are fed up and I a surprised to see how many of them want to give the neophytes a chance. From the humblest to erstwhile staunch supporters of political parties, all have decided to support the broom! The logic is to give a visibly honest and sincere party a chance.

I would like to exercise my vote if the powers that be ensure that I am on the hallowed list but I still do not know which way to go. I would like to give my vote to someone who sees children begging or working and remembers that too have all the rights enshrined in our Constitution including the Right to Education. I would like to vote for someone who realises that there is too much wrong around us and it is time to address situations head on, someone who works not for the interest of one class, one religion, one segment of society but for the poorest of the poor, someone who hangs his head in shame when faced with the fact that even today 5000 children under five die every day because we cannot give them proper nutrition, clean drinking water and basic health care.

Maybe I ask for too much.