Elections then and now
The other day I heard my six-year-old daughter singing "Cong party ko desh se nikaal do…" Where, on earth, did she pick that up from? I wondered. "A WhatsApp forward on mamma's phone," she answered. "Ah, these forwards!" I muttered. But even I found the video catchy when I checked it out. Writes Rakesh Kumar.chandigarh Updated: Apr 14, 2014 08:32 IST
The other day I heard my six-year-old daughter singing "Cong party ko desh se nikaal do…" Where, on earth, did she pick that up from? I wondered. "A WhatsApp forward on mamma's phone," she answered. "Ah, these forwards!" I muttered. But even I found the video catchy when I checked it out.
Her innocent intonation took me back to the days when we, as children, chanted popular election slogans oblivious of their meaning and unmindful of the impact it would have on our audience. The elders never slammed us even if the slogans were against the political choice of the family.
Sometimes in 1988, when a girl was asked to tell a joke on a live broadcast for children on All-India Radio's Patna station, she chirped: "Gali gali mein shor hai, Rajiv Gandhi chor hai" (In every street, they say Rajiv Gandhi is a thief). The child didn't realise the consequences of what she had said on air, but the station director got the boot for this faux pas.
Thankfully, my daughter wasn't on any radio station when she sang those lines. But during our childhood, there was something about poll slogans that made campaigning exciting and colourful in the era before former election commissioner TN Seshan came up with stern measures to discipline election expenditure, and before the dreaded model code of conduct came into effect. There were no 10pm deadlines on campaigning and loudspeakers could blare ad nauseam.
Before every India election, a wave emerged, which indicated the outcome of the gargantuan exercise. Politicians whipped up frenzy with a catchy slogan, and people built a wave around it. In the1971 general elections, it was Indira Gandhi's promise to remove poverty, "Garibi Hatao", which built up the wave in her favour.
Some years later, when a new political force took shape in the JP movement, the slogan was "Indira Hatao, Desh Bachao' (Remove Indira, save the country).
The Rajiv Gandhi slogan coincided with the emergence of the Mr Clean of India politics, VP Singh, who rode to the prime minister's throne on the Bofors wave, which also brought another slogan: "Raja nahin faqir hai, desh ki taqdir hai (He's a pauper not a king, he's country's fate)," for the Raja of Manda.
We as children were amused to see rickshaws fitted with loudspeakers, making numerous rounds of even the narrowest lanes, the man in the passenger seat alternating between hurling pamphlets and making vote appeals on the microphone.
We strutted around with poll badges, sometimes two on each breast pocket, of different political outfits, and put on caps with poll slogans as if that was the latest fashion that season.
Poll graffiti was a common sight, as it was de rigueur for people to allow election bills on their walls in villages, towns and cities across the country.
Unfortunately, kids such as my children will never know what Indian elections were like before they were born. The code of conduct and the curbs on poll expenses have disciplined the polling process but made elections bland, dull and colourless.