The following posts are short reports from researchers who are currently conducting ethnographic research into the meaning that elections hold for the electorate. Shifting the emphasis away from ‘who will win’, this study of elections will investigate the reasons for why people vote at all, what their motivations are, how the election campaign is experienced by ordinary voters, and what their experience of casting their vote on election day is like. This study currently being conducted during the state-level Vidhan Sabha elections in the state of Gujarat, is part of a larger three-year project to investigate these questions in future Vidhan Sabha and Panchayat level elections. The principal investigator of this project, ‘Panchayat and Vidhan Sabha elections 2012-2015’, is LSE’s Dr Mukulika Banerjee (part of the European Research Network Programme: Explaining Electoral Change in Rural and Urban India, which is funded by Indian-European Research Networking Programme ANR-DFG-ESRC-ICSSR-NOW Joint Funding Scheme). This post first appeared on Governance Now.
As election date nears, electioneering gets to a slow start. After the Congress candidate’s night meeting with locals, Achhala folks wait for ‘meetings’ of the other candidates, writes Ashish Mehta.
“Tonight, we will have a meeting in the village. Mohansinh-bhai (Rathwa, the Congress candidate) is coming,” Suresh Rathwa told me. Suresh, a soft-spoken young farmer, runs a grocery shop, leads the pack of Achhala village’s followers of a new sect, Sat Kewal Saheb, and is the elected member to the village panchayat (which is based in Bhilpur, comprising five villages including Achhala).
He is also known to be a BJP campaigner. But the meeting on the night of December 7 was more of a social event and a BJP man inviting you for a Congress election meet was not a surprise. He and his friends were there by evening.
The host was Bilsinh-bhai Rathwa, a veteran Congress supporter and former elected representative to the district panchayat. He is also the owner of the only house in the village with an upper storey, which thus serves as the venue for any community meeting. – the previous day, about a dozen farmers had gathered there (and Bilsinh himself did not even need to be there) when a drip irrigation company wanted to make a sales pitch.
Tonight, it was a different kind of sales pitch. The meeting was to be at night, beyond that there was no point in fixing a time. When I reached the place at around 7, there was a small gathering across the road, at one of the four-five shops of the village, next to the only school, which will incidentally serve as the polling booth. Youngsters were fooling around, children were playing and the aging took their seats on the benches (on each of which somebody has put tar on the lines that these were built from Bilsinh’s funds).
They were busy narrating their encounters with bears, quite common at night, and when the electricity supply for irrigation is at night, the farmers can’t avoid them. There was a serious discussion on how to distinguish the monkey shit from the bear shit (the latter could be sticky) and which trees attract bears at night. As Ravji Rathwa, he with his impressive moustaches and more impressive oratory, held forth, a couple of teenagers described how they were assaulted by bears at night, and sought tips for such occasions.
Politics, in other words, was not on the agenda….
It was 9.30 by the time the main party arrived; fellow campaigners in SUVs, the candidate himself in an Innova. Mohansinh (khadi kurta etc plus Nehru jacket, no Congress scarf) apologised with folded hands, “I am sorry, friends, for the delay. Did you have food? On the way, every village stopped us. ‘Just talk to us for five minutes,’ they said,” said the eight-term MLA and former minister who currently represents the pre-limitation neighbouring Pavi-Jetpur.
Not counting the couple of newspapers that come to the village, less than dozen TV sets which mostly play entertainment channels, word coming in from bigger villages via people, and the occasional campaign vehicles throwing pamphlets, this late-night meeting was Acchala’s first brush with the assembly elections 2012. It now got down to business. A leader introduced the leader (“elected MLA since 1971, the senior most member of the assembly, pride of our community”), and then the speech.
The crowd swelled a bit, some women stretched their necks sitting by the window in the houses and huts nearby. The women of the host’s family assembled in the verandah of the first floor of the house. What Mohansinh said, in his tone of the village elder giving guidance but with wit and colloquial humour spiced with anecdotes, was in contrast to the formal, short speech his BJP rival Gulsinh made at Tejgagh (a bigger village 2 km away) dished out. If an issue did not touch upon the quotidian lives of villagers in these parts, then it was not in his speech. The ones he touched upon included:
* The lease to carry sand from the Orsang river: why should it be given to outsiders and why not the local farmers who are affected by the river’s destruction?
* The Modi government is changing a rule about inheritance of property. To register inherited land and other you will have to pay stamp duty at the current market price. Modi (singular, not the formal plural of courtesy) spends in crores and then this is how he plans to make money.
* I was a sarpanch in 1965, we used to issue all certificates in the village. Now everything is – what do they call it? ‘Online’ – yes, online. So spend Rs 20-25, go to Chhota Udepur, stand in a queue and they will say the computer is not working today, come tomorrow. Waste your day’s wages or farm work.
(See the complete list of issues touched upon here).
Villagers remained silent. (It was quite late in the night, but time here is told in round figures and nobody bothered about any election campaign rules. In any case, there was no campaign material anywhere.)
As the meeting was formally over, those with ‘questions’ and ‘confusions’ sought out the candidate. “This is our vevai (son or daughter’s father-in-law),” one village-level party supporter introduced a fellow to Mohansinh, and then presented the problem, something about recruitment for a government job. Mohansinh listened patiently, very patiently for this time of the day after hours of hard campaigning, and promised full help. Another had a trickier problem, for which the only solution could be, “Once we form the government…”.
The next events Achhala folks awaited were ‘meetings’ of the three other candidates: Gulsinh Rathwa (BJP), Arjun Rathwa (JD-U) and Shankarsinh Rathwa (Gujarat Parivartan Party).
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