I will not mention the names of the candidates. But many years ago, as a prominent BJP leader was up against a tough Congress rival in a suburban constituency, I had a glimpse into how elections are won – or lost. Some weeks before the campaign went underway, a member of the Muslim community, who claimed to be a Congress worker, had come to me and bitterly complained about how he and his friends were being harassed by campaign workers of this leader to vote for their party candidate.
“I m a khaandani Congressi,’’ he said. “How can I vote for the BJP?’’
Imagine my shock and surprise, then, when I saw him on stage with this leader halfway through the campaign, even making fiery speeches in his support. The BJP leader was exhorting the voters to try out his party’s “kheer’’. “If you do not find it as sweet as the Congress’s kheer, I will bow out of the race,’’ he said. The turncoat was avowing that indeed the BJP’s kheer was sweeter.
It took me sometime to understand what went into that kheer. As this seeming turncoat stepped off the stage, I buttonholed him for a justification of his betrayal. He looked at me in very hostile fashion and said grimly, “Madam, aap hamare pet par laat mat maaro.’’
Just beginning to understand then what all this might be about, I carried the story to the Congress candidate. “Do you know your workers are defecting to the other side?’’
His complacent answer was a bigger revelation. “I know. It was I who asked them to go over. My rival is distributing so much cash among the voters… I do not have that kind of money to match his treasure chest. So I told my workers, ‘Go and gather as much as you can. Because you will not get anything close from me.’ But I know that all their votes are coming to me.’’
He was absolutely right. On counting day, I was in the BJP election office and so shocked were the party strategists that they failed to be discreet before loitering reporters “We did not buy enough,’’ one of them said in dismal tones. Another replied, “No. I think the other side bought more of ours.’’
Over the years I saw this story repeat over and over again with almost all political parties – one year, in Nagpur, I overheard some Congress workers complain that their candidate had stopped distributing money halfway through the campaign for they fully expected to lose the elections. The candidate was asleep on counting day and had to be shaken rudely awake by his workers – they were all stunned that he was leading his BJP rival effortlessly and was asked to rush to the counting centre to collect his certificate on time.
So there was no surprise so many years later when BJP state president Raosaheb Danve, campaigning for the third phase of local self-government elections, exhorted the voters not to turn away “Laxmi’’ who comes to their doors only once on the eve of polls. Despite attempts to backtrack, he is now in trouble with the Election Commission, for his statement , unlike the kheer, left no one in doubt who this “Laxmi” actually was.
It is naïve to believe that despite the best efforts to curb electoral expenses, parties and candidates stay within the stipulated limits of expenditure. Maids and gardeners, and sometimes drivers, regularly disappear ‘due to unforeseen circumstances’ whenever elections are close in their villages. Apart from the regulation saris, dhotis and liquor bottles, every candidate tops up the cash the other offers to the voters. One year when I scolded my maid for indulging in this practice, she told me contemptuously, “I make in one day what I will not working for you for a whole year.’’
I knew she would not stop. Nor would the political parties.
So while Danve’s statement should have been par for the course, the only surprise is that he should have tried to convert the ‘kheer’ of yesteryears into ‘’Laxmi’ at a time when his party leader’s stated goal for demonetisation is to clean up corruption – and, I presume, that means corruption in even electoral politics. But with political parties exempt from the pain of demonetisation, who is to blame Danve for believing otherwise?