As the campaigning by major and not-so-major political parties for the 2014 general election closed on Tuesday, and those who enjoy their pegs lamented that the mandatory dry day had begun, here are a few observations and questions.
By the end of polling hours on April 24, it will be interesting to know not only how Mumbai voted in this hyped-up election but also how many Mumbaiites voted. At the best and worst of times, the city's trend is that an average of only four out of every ten voters take the trouble to walk up to the polling booth and cast their franchise. But other regions of Maharashtra and the country that have already voted have seen an impressive increase in voter turnout. Mumbai should surprise itself this time.
The on-the-ground noise in this election has been matched, or in some cases even out-done, by the online deluge of electioneering as many young new-converts to politics chose to conduct their politics from their laptops, tablets and phones. The new-converts who began to see the significance of politics in their lives were, as expected, more vocal and fierce about their preferences. The hype, noise and motivation--from pizza outlets to private banks--have been unprecedented. After this, if voting does not become the uber cool thing to do this time--especially for the new-converts, the elite and the upper-class Mumbaiites--then it may never be.
Of all the candidates in the fray, those from Aam Aadmi Party, both the well-known personalities such as Medha Patkar and the less-known faces such as Satish Jain, displayed utter devotion to the cause and exemplary purpose. This is all the more commendable given that many of them knew that they were fighting a losing battle. Leaders of the established political parties scoffed at them but the AAP candidates managed to change the political campaign narrative of the larger parties in their constituencies from vague promises to concrete issue-based commitments.
The Congress which went into this election with its five MPs--the sixth was from its ally Nationalist Congress Party-- seeking a repeat term still does not have a recognisable, credible and approachable face in the city. The Mumbai Congress Regional Committee, always a separate entity from the Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee, has been shepherded by the genial Prof. Janardhan Chandurkar, but he simply is not the party's mascot here at all. For that matter, city unit chiefs of other parties are low-profile people too.
The Congress-NCP alliance is still intact. The BJP expanded its alliance with the Shiv Sena to include four other parties at the state level. Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena--navnirman or regeneration of what really, it may be worth asking--has been barking at the BJP's heels trying hard to not be the odd party out. Will this election be the last one with these alliances and coalitions? If the parties re-group before the state assembly election, what will the new coalitions look like and who will be the odd one out? And, if they re-group into new coalitions, will they offer a new and sustainable vision for the city?
This election is, at once, macro and ultra-micro; the Parliament and the ward coalescing without boundaries. It's about the idea of India, its plurality, inclusiveness and yes secularism too. It's also, rightly or wrongly as both candidates and voters will affirm, about the gutter-water-meter issues. A voter usually sees a hierarchy from his/her corporator to the member of legislative assembly to the member of Parliament, though this hierarchy is a false notion. Both sets of concerns are powerful and significant in their own way.
Finally, this election has seen more hate speeches, offensive one-liners and below-the-belt hits than any other in recent memory. The Election Commission has taken note of some of these and initiated action. Can voters rise above the poisonous rhetoric?