Later we’ll learn that Delhi redeemed itself and that even the armchair socialists of the deep South turned up to exercise their franchise, instead of just their vocal chords, at the capital’s electoral booths last Wednesday. We’ll hear that the surge was led by young hopefuls and that 1.72 lakh people rushed in to support their candidates after 5 pm, which is the time that the polling staff usually shuts shop.
On TV we’ll see ironed ladies Sonia Gandhi and Sheila Dikshit nonchalantly bypassing the queue and striding into the booth at Nirman Bhavan to cast their secret(!) ballot. In contrast, Rahul Gandhi—playing Citizen Sane—will stand in queue for over 30 minutes at the Aurangzeb Lane booth in New Delhi constituency. So will Maneka Gandhi, after giving a girlish little wave to the photographers lying in wait for the unlikely sight of the capital’s spry-and-mighty emerging out of swanky sedans at the shabby gates of government schools and colleges. We’ll see endless pictures of AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal and BJP’s good doctor Harshvardhan with their families, giving cameras the finger. In every sighting, Kejriwal will be wearing his trademark sullen expression, cap and spondylosis collar-like muffler; the doctor’s face will be creased with the history of too many smiles.
But for now, we’re at our own booth, playing as much voyeur as voter. If it weren’t for everyone’s drab attire, you could be forgiven for mistaking the scene for a Rajshree/Sooraj Barjatya production. Families, families and more families fill the grounds. The patriarchs lead the way, telling no one in particular about how they’ve been voting since the beginning of time. Many are in wheelchairs; and their determination to have a say in the future of the country is extra creditable given that some of them look as if they may not be around even to know the poll outcome.
Grandmothers, freshly bathed and talcum powdered, walk slowly into the booths, leaning on the arms of their children or grandchildren. Fathers bark instructions to the family: “Remember to press number 3,” says the gent directly behind me. A number of us immediately look up no. 3 on the reference chart pasted near the door and see it’s the ‘hand’ he’s going for. Another gentleman in the line, obviously a Congress supporter, immediately pumps his hand.
“Don’t make a mistake. Our symbol is the lotus,” a husband tells his wife. She doesn’t reply at first, but then snaps back: “That may be ‘your’ symbol. It’s not ‘ours’. Telling me what to cook is bad enough. Don’t tell me whom to vote for.” She looks as if she may say more, but the embarrassed husband quickly shushes her. I try and shoot her encouraging looks, hoping she will pipe up again (what better way to start election day than by listening to a couple squabble over political choices?) but, disappointingly, she shuts up.
The young girls at the back of the queue make up for her silence by talking animatedly about the Aam Aadmi Party and how it’s suffused the air with the smell of renewal, or at least its possibility. One of them says her Singapore-based brother and his IIM alumni friends have donated big sums of money to Kejriwal’s gang because they believe that it can help realize their idea of India.
With D-Day upon us, wonder what my fellow voters are saying about the new writers of the story of India as a nation.
(Emails to the author can be sent at firstname.lastname@example.org)