The power of NO (elections 2014)

None of the above option.  photo courtesy Indian Express
None of the above option. photo courtesy Indian Express

The refrain of the Sam Cooke anthem keeps playing in my head: “It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will”

In just three days, Bangaloreans will be choosing their MPs, hopefully for a full-term. Many voters are still undecided, and for most, the moment of reckoning will arrive when they are up close to the ballot boxes.

Below are the impressions I have formed after meeting a cross-section of people – shopkeepers, domestic workers, school teachers, tech workers, entrepreneurs and students. I modified my original plan of trailing candidates of all parties as I heard them all at the BPAC citizens meet. I have stuck to evaluating three political parties – BJP, Congress and AAP.

Yes, everybody is agreed that we need a strong government. But who will bring it? How can we help bring the change? These are the questions that frustrate many citizens.

Modi, the strong patriarch, seems to be gaining ground. So what if he left his child bride? Sacrifice and suffering are much revered in our country. Several people are inclined to give him a chance simply because against a weak and pusillanimous government, Vibrant Gujarat holds its own.

Some have a very real fear of religious polarization that makes BJP a not very welcome option. Even if they could be convinced that fears of communal divides are exaggerated, the track record of the BJP government in our state of Karnataka is abysmal, and the re-admittance of Yediyurappa and his backers is beyond the pale. Crony capitalism and corruption will not end under Modi sarkaar. Adani will join the ranks of Ambani, is all the change that’s going to happen, they say.

If the argument were for a strong Opposition to counterbalance the Modi sarkaar, the Congress would be the party to vote for. But yet again, the Nehru Gandhi dynasty looms large with Priyanka now being touted as the knight in shining armour who will ride out to rescue the party in distress.

The Congress seems unable to read the writing on the wall. People do not respect a party that is clinging to the pallu of a family. “How many reluctant Prime Ministers should we suffer? Its senior leaders are guilty of propagating a puppet regime. What of the able candidates in the fray for this elections – they would very well be sucked into the Congress internal quicksand and be ineffective.” – This is the gist of people’s complaints. The lesson for the Congress to ponder upon after the elections is to consider letting the Nehru-Gandhi scions retire from politics and leave the party to manage by itself. It will have to learn to survive without them.

While AAP stands for all the right things, Kejriwal is a loose cannon, and has unfortunately become the butt of jokes after Slapgate. Can AAP overcome the teething problems, or even a replace a leader if he becomes more of a liability?

Increasingly, NOTA is gaining ground. Rejecting the devil, the deep blue sea and an unpredictable new leader is a valid and empowering choice too. If people, who reject all the politicians before them, would still come out to exercise their vote and choose None of the Above, this will be a powerful action. If sufficient numbers do this, it will signal to the parties that the old ways won’t work.

May be then, a change will come.

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meeting with candidates with BPAC – on the campaign trail -2

AAP, BJP, JDS &Cong candidates of bangalore central lok sabha constituency
AAP, BJP, JDS &Cong candidates of bangalore central lok sabha constituency

Sunday morning and about 300 people turned up at the new altar of BPAC whose grandmasters decided, after the debacle of the Bangalore South debate, to display some toughness of their own.

This time, the debate of the four major parties was not wholly public. Details were circulated among a chosen few who had to display their invites and photo IDs to get in to the hall. Dozens of vigilant volunteers had diligent plans from entry to seating and everything went off like clockwork.

Candidates were asked four questions in turns and had four minutes each to answer them. Audience questions were pooled and read out at the end, with no room for slanging matches. At one point when BJP’s PC Mohan and Congress’s Rizwan Arshad locked horns, K Jairaj, former bureaucrat and one of BPAC’s big daddies, went so far as to order that their microphones be muted!

Why do they consider themselves good candidates, what do they offer and what is their vision for Bangalore were the broad themes addressed by the candidates. The incumbent MP Mohan claimed that he had worked to get the metro, and to add bus stations, to increase water supply and to upgrade the railway station.

Nandini Alva introduced a curious new term – essential Bangalorean, and spoke more in general terms. Bala made hard-hitting points about the fact that the Parliamentary elections having become centred on municipal issues as the local bodies had failed to deliver. To applause from the audience,he promised to press for the swaraj model to empower local wards, better implementation of law and honest governance.

Young Rizwan’s speech was constantly interrupted by spontaneous bursts of applause from the audience, who did not baulk at Jairaj’s remonstrations to restrain themselves. Rizwan had an answer for everything: like the others, he too wants a cleaner, safer city with less traffic. He would implement his own ideas, as well as the good ideas of his opponents.About corruption, he said that the Congress had to be given credit for The Right to Information Act which led to exposure of scams. He also took pride in the Aadhaar project which had enabled timely delivery of benefits to people. As this was not a homogeneous constituency, he would create a Vision Group for this constituency to come out with specific solutions for different areas.

Verdict: Both Bala and Rizwan made convincing statements; Mohan was defensive, Alva on a different wave length. If votes were counted on the rounds and decibel today, we would have to give it to the Congress.