Two Sides of a Poll Coin
By Sumati Mehrishi - NEW DELHI
Published: 01st Dec 2013 07:55:25 AM
Money makes and breaks fortunes of contestants in an election. In the Delhi Assembly elections, some of the richest and poorest candidates are fighting for votes with and without the power it gives. While the millionaires are flashing promises built on confidence that money brings, the poorest ones count their honesty, popularity, personal reach and perseverance as assets. Catching up with the election campaign of Delhi’s richest candidate is a good exercise for the legs. Having declared his wealth at `235.5 crore, the Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) candidate in Rajouri Garden, Manjinder Singh Sirsa, has attracted a lot of attention—some unwanted. An Election Commission cameraman records his campaign proceedings.
People step outside their houses and shops to meet him. This gives Sirsa’s supporters and processions pace. “I have declared my wealth and I am committed to bringing change in the area. People in my constituency identify with me.” Sirsa’s campaign is swift, hurried and tight. His supporters aren’t voluble. Their interaction with people of Chand Nagar, mostly Sikhs, is like a soft conversation with members of a huge family.
Sirsa’s supporters request for vote, as he hops over from one door to another in Chand Nagar. “Two lanes more, just two lanes more,” his supporters tell him, assuring he meets every voter in every family. Sirsa touches the women’s feet as a mark of respect. They offer him drinking water in return. The buzz about Sirsa’s luxury cars fades into the noise of slogans and Chand Nagar traffic.
Money isn’t always the crowd puller. In Trilokpuri, “muscle power” of a different kind does the trick. Raju Dhingan, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) candidate, is a bodybuilder who has been training the “poor youth” in bodybuilding and fitness after he left his job in the Centre Industrial Security Force years ago. With Dhingan and his supporters, we proceed to one of the narrow lanes in Trilokpuri’s blocks 7, 8 and 9 with houses on both sides, thronged by a crowd of fruit-sellers, barbers, cobblers, labourers, autorickshaw drivers, women and schoolchildren who shake hands with Dhingan and “bless” him. Dhingan and his supporters raise slogans and address the women directly: “Aunty mohar kahan lagegi? Jhaadoo par Jhaadoo par.” Anisha, a labourer, steps out of her house to show her support; another woman cleaning the grains blesses him; yet another asks for his badge. Dhingan is drawing the promises and leaving some of his supporters choked with emotions. Lane after lane, people’s reciprocation to Dhingan’s campaign remains heart-warming; they describe him for “perseverance, strong character and a very popular man”. Dhingan says, “I have an ancestral home in block 22 of Trilokpuri, and `1,000 for my savings; my wife has less than `250. Being a poor candidate is not a deterrent. The poor are aware of what’s right for them.”
Not all rich candidates shy away from questions posed at their wealth. Sitting MLA and BJP candidate Sat Prakash Rana tells a group of voters in Bijwasan over the microphone that he is proud to have declared his wealth before the public. He refuses to be a sitting duck for questions posed at the increase in his wealth—from `6.38 crore in 2008 to `111.89 crore this year. “It’s my ancestral wealth. Like other rich candidates, I won’t do the farce by saying I have just a few thousands in my bank balance after having those expensive cars and farmhouse I stay in. I am confident about the development I have brought and by 31st of December, I will bring water to you all. You are tired of paying for tankers.” His voice echoes in a small lane outside his office in Rajnagar II which has the largest number of voters from Uttarakhand. “Ranaji has a solid vote bank of people from Uttarakhand staying in the constituency. The mood against the Congress will go in his favour,” a supporter from Gangotri tells us.
Newspaper vendor Sanjay Kumar doesn’t use a microphone. The Independent candidate from New Delhi constituency, with a wealth of `2,600, rolls up a newspaper to make his voice heard to the few people who throng him. “I don’t need the money to contest elections. I go by what my heart says, and chose to contest independently despite the fact that there is a party for the common man today. I had contested the 2004 Lok Sabha elections as an Independent candidate. I got 850 votes.” Why did he not join AAP? “The common man is self-sufficient. He doesn’t need a party to divide his identity as a common man,” adds Kumar who comes from Bihar.
Luck favours the rich and influential. BSP’s candidate from RK Puram, Dhiraj Kumar Tokas, with assets worth `100 crore is one of the many lucky ones. “It doesn’t matter if I am the richest in the party. I have been active in politics since my college days. I have been going to cluster areas during the last 10 years to know about the problems people face. My constituency is a mini India. At my campaign you would find students from JNU as supporters.” Tokas was an NSUI supporter during his college days. At Sector 8, RK Puram, he engages shopkeepers in a conversation. “Give me the first chance to serve you. You won’t be disappointed.” He has been doing a door-to-door campaign for two-three months now.
Dharmendra Koli walks like a winner. In New Seemapuri constituency, dressed in a long khadi kurta and jacket, with marigold malas around his neck, the AAP candidate looks like the newly anointed poor man’s proud prince. But there’s more of promise than happiness on his face. His sister Santosh Koli, an AAP member, was killed in an accident earlier this year. “My sister was killed for her activism. She had found discrepancies in the PDS and welfare schemes. I will fight for all of us.” Koli walks with a small group of supporters and seeks votes from everyone on his way near the Korh Ashram.
The poorest candidates are shaping intangible resources like trust and the promise for change—a break from vices that some of the rich candidates bring to Indian politics.