“I will vote for Lala Kalyandas, because he has promised to introduce a bullockcart sprinkler in our town,” announced Choudhary Ramnarayan. “But Seth Hukumchand insists we need to erect a platform in the main mandi for vegetable vendors,” retorted Jamnadas.
Elections to the municipality were due in six weeks in the year 1937 in Tandalianwala in undivided Punjab of British India. It was an electrifying time. The lead candidates were prominent commission agents in the grain market. Lala Kalyandas represented the Hindu Mahasabha and Hukumchand the Congress.
The scorching summer was punctuated with hot winds that felt like waves of destruction. Dust flew into our eyes and every nook of our homes. Relief came only around 5 pm in the evening, when a “mashi” with a goatskin-leather bag on his back filled with water, sprinkled the dusty roads.
However the town had only 10 “mashis” and it would be late in the night before they sprinkled water on some of the dusty streets. Lala Kalyandas promised to introduce bullock-driven water-tanks with sprinklers mounted on the rear that could cool the streets in a few hours.
Tandalianwala also had a fresh vegetable market near the mandi, where vendors squatted and placed their wares on the dusty streets. Naturally, the vegetables accumulated dirt and the town consumed these dustcoated vegetables. Hukumchand promised he would build a concrete platform for the vendors, so that the town consumed hygienic vegetables.
Thus commenced the battle of the bullock-cart sprinkler versus the vegetable vendor platform. What did the town need more urgently? Which choice would benefit more people? Which candidate would fulfil his promise after the elections? These issues were debated in every corner of the town.
But the candidates never indulged in any personal attacks or false accusations. They didn’t hurl abuses at each other. They kept the election battle clean. The walls of the town were not defiled with posters.
Election day was a landmark day. Elections are hope, for a better, different tomorrow. Local residents would start queuing up at the polling booth as early as 7am. My father and his friends donned fresh white starched garments and turbans. By 3pm about 70% to 80% of the voters would exercise their franchise.
At the age of 16, my friends and I cherished the elections because the polling was held in our school and we would get a bonus holiday.
Over the years, elections have become exercises in maligning and hurling innuendos at each other in India. I hope we will see a day when parties fight elections on issues, and not on caste or communal lines.
Returning to Tandalianwala’s battle between the bullock-cart sprinkler and the vegetable vendor platform, it was the former reform that won the day. Lala Kalyandas took about a year to introduce five bullockcart sprinklers. The local residents did not mind that. There was hope for the future, in our hearts.