What’s on the minds of Indian voters | india | Hindustan Times
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What’s on the minds of Indian voters

A split mandate, the usual chaos in corridors of power and the same slanging match among politicians — will this election be any different from the past? Yes, in some ways. The most ambitious pre-poll assessment ever, by 60 Hindustan Times journalists who travelled across India over the past two months, reveals what’s on the minds of Indian voters. Rajesh Mahapatra reports. See Graphics

india Updated: Apr 14, 2009 12:26 IST
Rajesh Mahapatra

A split mandate, the usual chaos in corridors of power and the same slanging match among politicians — will this election be any different from the past? Yes, in some ways.

Incumbency as a factor influencing voters appears to be on the wane. There is no single poll plank that uniformly resonates across the 714-million electorate that will start casting ballot from Thursday.

Terrorism figures only in places like Delhi and Mumbai, despite 26/11 and its aftermath, and the economic downturn is mostly a concern among urban voters who make up a little over a quarter of the electorate.

This election is more about local issues and new aspirations. That’s the takeaway from India Yatra -- a cross-country journey by 30 reporters and 30 photographers of Hindustan Times, undertaken ahead of the polls.

From 24-hour electricity to paved roads and schools in neighbourhood, the Indian voter wants a better life and wants politicians to deliver.

“We have seen voters turning assertive in the south, in some parts of western and northern India as well. Now it’s happening in the impoverished tracts of eastern India and elsewhere,” said Ashok Baral, a social worker in Kalahandi, Orissa.

So, residents of Barlamunda in Orissa’s Koraput district are threatening to boycott polls, because a road connecting the remote tribal village has remained a promise for the past 15 years.

In Jalandhar, Punjab, voters want English education, because that improves their job prospects. In the same way, the Karpawal village in Bastar, Chhattisgarh might vote for BJP because its government gave them a school, while many rural voters in Andhra Pradesh may side with Congress because Chief YS Rajasekhara Reddy has given subsidised houses and power.

Rice for Rs 2 a kilo and 100 days of guaranteed employment from the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme are welcome, but expectations do not end there.

Politicians are taking note. They are now more visible in their constituencies. Complaints of a missing MP were frequent only in a quarter of the 117 constituencies covered by our journalists and most of these happen to be in the outback of states like Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir and Karnataka. In advanced states of Gujarat, Delhi, Tamil Nadu as also Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, fewer people had similar grievances.

“Increasingly, politicians are realising they can’t take voters for granted,” said Rohan D’Souza who teaches science policy at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

The shift in aspirations has come with the change in India’s economic landscape.

With mobile phones and cable television reaching remote villages, “you can, sitting in Kullu, watch The Bold and the Beautiful or the T-20 matches, and you know what the others are like and what they have that you don’t,” said Mahesh Rangarajan, professor of history, Delhi University.

The spread of communication technologies is also helping people “find a platform for their voice,” he said.

Voters will pick their candidate depending on who they think would to deliver.

So in Kaveri delta, the festering dispute between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka over sharing water of the river is the most important concern; in Raigad, Maharashtra, the top issue is displacement caused by special economic zone being developed by Reliance Industries Ltd.; in Kinnaur, Himachal Pradesh, voters worry about the ecological fallout of a big dam in the region; and in Assam, it’s all about which party will tackle the problem of Bangladeshi immigrants.

“Our politics has always been diverse,” said Rangarajan. “But now that diversity is finding expression.”