The voting is done and dusted in Kerala, and the toting up has begun. For Shajar Khan, the number is Rs 70,254. That’s what he reckons he spent after adding each and every rupee on the election campaign expense sheet. This is less than the price of the giant flex hoarding his rival put up on the main road. Like elsewhere, in Thiruvananthapuram, too, the Election Commission allows you to spend up to Rs 25 lakh, but the Socialist Unity Centre of India candidate tells a different story.
“I don’t think it was sufficient for even a moderate campaign. But we resolved that we would use only the money collected from the public for campaigning,” Khan notes. The SUCI estimate was Rs 1 lakh. It was reworked to Rs 75,000 as they could not mobilise so much from public donations. Party policy prohibits contributions from the corporate sector and the rich.
This isn’t enough. “A decent campaign needs Rs 5 lakh to 7 lakh.” Khan used black and white notices and posters while his high profile rivals used multi-colour posters and flex boards. “My only regret is that we could not print as many posters and notices as desired. Even if I had more money, I would have printed more posters and notices rather than add to the glitter. I would say a strict no to flex boards
even then,” he shrugs.
He points to the high voltage campaign by BJP leader O Rajagopal in 2004 to prove the futility of luxury. “If you had counted the number of flex boards, Rajagopal should have been the winner. But, he finished third in the contest.” Among the candidates in Thiruvananthapuram is former UN under secretary-general Shashi Tharoor, on a Congress ticket.
The financial crunch forced Khan to compromise on the logistics. “Some 80 per cent of my travel was by bike. I was pillion-riding though the small streets of the constituency. I walked hundreds of kilometres in one-and-a half months to meet voters.”
For road shows they had two vehicles — an “announcement jeep” and an open jeep. When the candidate and a couple of his colleagues stood up in the open jeep, all others were packed in the “announcement jeep”.
“My sweetest campaign moment is when a couple of street vendors promised to vote for me because I walked during the campaign,” he recollects. “All others came here in air-conditioned vans. You are the first to walk all this way braving the scorching sun to see us. We will vote for you,” they told him after giving him a cup of lemon juice.
But Khan doesn’t expect wonders. “We are fighting for certain principles. I am sure I could convey that to voters even though I spent only Rs 70,254.”