Leaders have realised the new voter is moving beyond the politics of caste, class, region or religion. He believes in the politics of development. The mantra is simple: perform or perish.
Kamini Jindal, 25, Zamindara Party
Youngest MLA, Ganganagar
Till a few months ago, Kamini Jindal, 25, was known as the daughter of billionaire industrialist BD Aggarwal and wife of IPS officer Deep Singhla. After the results of the Rajasthan assembly elections were declared on December 8, Jindal became the youngest and richest MLA. A proud moment for this first-time legislator whose victory came just 60 days after her Zamindara Party was registered.
Jindal — she is the first woman MLA from Ganganagar — who defeated the BJP’s Radheshyam despite the saffron surge in the state, ascribes her win to the fact that voters are now looking at candidates and not parties. “The voting pattern has changed as people have now understood the value of their votes and want both performance and good governance,” said Jindal.
Taking on Radheshyam, who has spent four decades in politics, was not easy but she realised her opponent’s focus had not been on development. “We raised the issue of a government medical college. Deeply influenced, the constituents said a medical college is what they required so they can see their children become doctors and have better access to medical facilities.”
Jindal believes politics of caste and religion is waning. “Earlier, people had no option because candidates of all parties played the same cards but now their options have increased so they have a choice.” Jindal , whose family trust distributes scholarships to students and pension to elders , claims people know the political motive behind government schemes. “Only half the public benefits from government schemes whereas we (and our trust) have been carrying on such welfare schemes for long.”
Unafraid of creating new rules, she made sure she did not launch personal attacks. “I never criticised anyone during my campaign which impressed voters.’’
This young MLA’s journey has only just begun. She has won the election but faces the tough challenge of holding onto her voters. (Inputs from Ram Prakash Meel)
Devi Singh Bhati, 67, BJP
Bikaner, Lost after six wins
Despite a wave in his party’s favour, Devi Singh Bhati, seven-time BJP MLA from Kolayat assembly constituency in Bikaner district of Rajasthan, lost to Congress’ Bhanwar Singh in the recent elections.
Bhati has seen voting dynamics change with time. Earlier, the polling percentage was not more than 25%-30% and women never ventured out to vote. Efforts by parties and the Election Commission ensured the turnout increased. Today, voters are no longer satisfied with mere announcements and want change.
According to Bhati, it is completely wrong to classify voters on the lines of religion, caste and class. He also admits that as leaders, there has been a gradual drifting away from voters with many viewing them just as mere vote banks. He also knows there is a general sense of disappointment with politicians.
Bhati feels voters’ decisions are now affected by both national and local issues and since people want to lead a life filled with peace and self-respect, they do not care much about the ideology of parties.
Though voters do not want any tainted candidates, many a time they are forced to elect such people, he says.
Anti-incumbency is what cost this seven-time MLA the election. He took his victory for granted and did not focus on development of his constituency, especially after he got a few small-time Congress leaders to defect to the BJP.
Gujarat chief minister and BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi addressed a public meeting in Bikaner and out of the seven MLAs, all, except Bhati, shared the stage with him. “Those scared of defeat need Modi,’’ he had told an aide. Those words have surely come back to haunt him.
(Inputs from P Srinivasan)
Prem Singh, 80, Congress
Ambedkar nagar, Delhi, Lost after 55 years
Congress veteran Prem Singh thought he was unbeatable. And he had reasons to think so. His name finds mention in the Limca Book of World Records for winning 10 consecutive elections from the same constituency and for the same party. But the octogenarian’s unbeaten stint of 55 years came to a grinding halt in the Delhi assembly polls this year.
He contested his first election from Ambedkar Nagar way back in 1958, but this time he couldn’t even put up a fight against the rookie AAP candidate. Singh stood a distant third. “I was gearing up for my annual birthday bash. Thoda maja kirkira ho gaya. It was unexpected. But nobody knows the AAP winner,” he says.
How does he explain the defeat? “The Valmiki community (mostly involved in cleaning and sanitation jobs) has been Congress’ vote bank. AAP’s strategy to have the broom as its party symbol worked because it is a source of livelihood for thousands of people from the Valmiki community who thought revolution was at hand and fell for its promises,” he says.
If someone has witnessed the changing dynamics in the electorate from close quarters, it’s Singh. “When I started out, nobody knew me. I got my early successes because of my father’s name. I used to take along representatives of various castes and communities. The words of family heads carried weight in those days.”
“Now the scene has changed. You need to go to each individual; you need to cajole husband and wife separately. Today’s voter wants his candidate to come to him personally,” he says.
Singh, as is the case with most from his generation, doesn’t have an online presence. “It is for those who are well educated and can afford the Internet. Delhi still has a large number of villages and these are the pockets from where people come out and vote. I never felt the need for a Twitter handle or a Facebook account.”
So is he ready for another shot at electoral politics? “I always am. We will bounce back,” he says like the seasoned player that he is. (Inputs from Darpan Singh)
Ravindra Choubey, 56, Congress
Chhattisgarh, Lost after six terms
The assembly election result was quite shocking for Ravindra Choubey, former leader of opposition at the Chhattisgarh assembly, who after six consecutive victories was defeated by the BJP’s first-timer Labhchand Bafna from Saja constituency.
Why did a heavyweight like him lose? He blames it on infighting within his party, the Congress’ failure to project a leader to counter BJP chief minister Raman Singh and a rejection of their promises by the electorate.
“Over a period of time, the loyalty factor for a party or a candidate erodes. People are now looking for swift change. Their focus is on development and changing lifestyles have led to greater expectations,” says Choubey, a farmer by occupation, who won his first election in 1985.
Over the years, he has noticed the voters change. Awareness levels are now higher and people think before they cast their vote, which symbolises power: power to punish and power to change.
“Whether I can become the voice of the voters, if I am available to them when they need me as well as my capabilities as a leader — all these are evaluated by the voters. They weigh everything before choosing and they closely look at the abilities of individual candidates,” he says.
According to Choubey, honesty has become a buzzword and that’s assessed before the voter thinks about a party’s ideology. “Because of this, I could win six times in a row,” he says.
He, however, feels “caste-or class-focused campaign remains a reality”. His party had different strategies for the tribal belt and for the plains, he admits.
Defeat has taught him an important lesson. “Voters need to be heard and looked after at all times. They can’t be taken for granted,” he says. (Inputs from Ejaz Kaiser)
Akhileshpati Tripathi, 30, AAP
Delhi, First-time winner
Till only a couple of years ago, Akhileshpati Tripathi wanted to walk the corridors of babudom. Today, he finds it difficult to explain how he became an MLA instead. But the young greenhorn does understand the voter of Delhi. “When I decided to contest, I was not sure of many things. But I was never in doubt you need to develop a rapport with the voters. They needed to be convinced why AAP could be an alternative,” he says.
Son of a retired schoolteacher, Tripathi attended school in Mehdawal and went on to graduate from PCC College, Allahabad. He completed his post-graduation from Allahabad University. “My educational background was a plus. I could explain a lot of things to voters and take on the administration. It is a mistake to classify the voter along the lines of religion, caste and class. The blood a dying patient needs doesn’t come with a label on it,” he says.
Tripathi grew up in Mehdawal in UP. He cleared the preliminary and main IAS exams twice, but could not nail the interview. He soon became a part of Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement and finally got a ticket to contest polls. In the Delhi assembly elections, he defeated the BJP’s Ashok Goyal by 10,000 votes.
Tripathi believes a good online presence does help candidates. “In a place like Delhi, online presence is a great asset,” he says. But a virtual presence doesn’t mean he is unaware of the ground realities. “Do ask your photographer to shoot how an MLA still lives in a slum to get to know the ground realities,” signs off Tripathi, who is looking forward to living his dream of being a servant to the public. (Inputs from Darpan Singh)
Babulal Gaur, 83, BJP
MLA from Govindpura (MP) and former CM
“In the ’70s and the early ’80s, voters mostly wanted construction of temples and dharmshalas. In the post-Emergency election, their only aim was to remove Indira Gandhi. From the mid-’80s, started the politics of development.” Babulal Gaur is quite objective while describing that dynamic breed called the Indian voter. It is this pragmatic grasp of his subject that has made him trump his opponents in several elections since 1974.
When Atal Bihari Vajpayee became the PM, Gaur says he sensed the people’s growing aspiration for development. “Once the villages were linked, the transport system, too, grew rapidly. Hence, the farmers started carrying their produce to the cities for sale and grew prosperous,” he says.
The 10-time MLA has seen the voter get more demanding over the years. “I get calls even at the dead of night or early morning from people seeking immediate solutions to their problems,” says Gaur.
Gaur, who belongs to the Yadav community, had learnt early on in his career that candidates and parties who have little else to offer are the ones calculating on the basis of religion and caste. He explains, “I got my surname from my schoolteacher who said I study ‘gaur se’ (with concentration).”
To keep his finger on the voter’s pulse, Gaur ensures regular visits to his constituency. “People even know what is cooking in my kitchen, thanks to the media’s inquisitiveness. Hence, one has to ensure transparency in public life,” he says.
In the end, it’s the work you put in through five years that matters. The veteran has perfected that art. “I don’t wait for the election time. I visit wards and localities every week, and try to resolve people’s problems on the spot,” he says. Anyone listening?
(Inputs from Ranjan Srivastava)