This is no the kind of a campaign that one has associated with Uttar Pradesh elections in the past: No banners, buntings and posters; no catchy slogans scrawled across boundary walls – not even the loudspeakers blaring out political propaganda in the filmi tune from the rundown three-wheelers.
Only an occasional tractor rattling along the Bareilly –Badaiun highway has a miniature-sized party flag fluttering atop. And one has to be particularly fortunate to be able to spot the expressionless face of Chief Minister Mulayam Singh in one of the rare posters that might have escaped notice of Returning Officers (ROs) of the election commission.
At the home turf of former Union Minister Santosh Gangwar – on his third term as BJP Lok Sabha member from Bareilly – the writ of the Election Commission is truly looming large. Assistant District Election Officer JC Mishra informed that 512 notices had so far been slapped on contesting candidates for violation of code ethics. Two vehicles have also been seized, while three candidates have paid up the fines imposed. Four hundred and seventy others have complied by pulling down buntings and scratching out the posters from the walls.
Eleven teams comprising a magistrate and a police officer each – equipped with a vide camera – have been on a prowl to detect code violations. Equally vigilant has been the 18-member strong team of the Returning Officers (ROs) and Observers of the Election Commission. Senior accounts officers have been summoned for scrutinizing vouchers/bills that candidates are required to submit every three days. “The seven-phased poll schedule has truly helped bring sanity and restore people’s confidence in the electoral process”, said veteran UP watcher and senior journalist Ram Dhani Dwivedi.
Bajrang Dal district president Gulshan Anand – also doubling up as the BJP’s chief election organizer – puts forth another perspective: “All the election material (banners and posters) have gone waste as the election commission dictat came at the last hour. Anand’s bigger problem is that he has limited options of publicizing the tour schedule of BJP stars including Navjot Singh Sidhu and Sushma Swaraj – shortly expected to arrive at Bareilly.
“The EC restrictions apply to everybody, so it fine for poor people like us”, district Samajwadi party president Tara Chand Swarup said. Similar sentiments were echoed by Pawan Arora of the BSP and Rajeev Sharma of the Congress. Mehboob Alam, local journalist, had this to add: “Revenues of media houses have gone up because of the election advertisements. Also – because there are no loudspeakers – people can get a decent sleep at nights”.
Gangwar’s sizable “kurmi” votebank – constituting 33% of Bareilly’s demographic share – supposedly remains intact. But the Rohilkhand region – of which Bareilly is the capital – does not have a history of favoring the BJP in the local elections. For instance, during the previous 2002 assembly elections, the Samajwadi Party had bagged seven of the nine seats, with BJP and the BSP having won two each of the remaining four seats. At a later date, the two BSP candidates had switched sides and joined the Samajwadi Party.