Sunday, June 27, 2010

Poll campaigns spare ears and streets

(By Vijay Chopra...Published in The Times Of India)

If 2009 Lok Sabha elections would go down in history for mud-slinging speeches and shoe-throwing episodes, they would also be remembered for quiet and clean campaigns. Quiet because poll related cacophony is missing, and clean since the roads have not been “decorated” with the election paraphernalia and walls spared from the political graffiti.

Much to the relief of public and to the discomfort of the political bandwagon, the Election Commission (EC) guidelines have brought the much needed sobriety to election campaigns, which are otherwise known for shrieky loudspeakers, and pamphlets and posters which leave the streets inundated. Though in the name of road-shows, long cavalcade of candidates still cause some inconvenience, campaigning has more or less been bearable.

Students, particularly, are a happier lot. “There was a time when it was difficult to concentrate on studies because loudspeakers would yell horribly composed parodies eulogising candidates. But ever since the EC imposed strict guidelines all these things have become a passé,” said Gaurav, a BA student. “The best part is that dread of campaigning has gone away. We can sleep in peace and don’t have the fear that our walls would be covered by posters and slogans,” said Shweta Bisht, a lecturer in city.

But not everyone is happy with the change. In fact, shops selling election publicity material have taken a severe beating. Amit Aggarwal, who is among the prime suppliers of poll publicity material in the city, said that sales have plummeted by 75 per cent. “Earlier, we would do brisk sales of Rs 25,000-30,000 in a day. Now, we struggle to sell material worth Rs 300 in a day,” he said.

On the reasons of this pitfall, Aggarwal said that strictness of the EC and administrative pressure together are responsible for the decline. “EC has banned flex posters which used to be in great demand. Besides, the administration is particularly harsh on display of polling material of opposition parties. Thus candidates are unwilling to buy products for the fear of any adverse action,” he said, and added that cash distribution too has become a “popular” mode of campaigning.

Arun Gupta, whose shop is housed in the BJP headquarter in the state capital, said that falling sales have led to unemployment. “Till last Lok Sabha elections, we had so much demand that 15-20 boys used to work in my shop. This time I’ve three workers and even they sit idle,” Gupta said. “If things do not change then very soon we would be looking for alternatives,” he added.

However, apart from the EC norms and vigilance exercised by the official machinery, the advent of technology too has played its part in the changing styles of campaigning. Media savvy leaders have also shown a penchant for Internet and SMS culture. State BJP spokesperson Hriday Narain Dixit, while admitting that EC guidelines on posters and banners have somewhat rendered campaigning difficult, said his party has taken a lead in reaching out to maximum voters through SMSes and door-to-door campaigns. He, however, accused the BSP government of trying to sabotage the poll campaigns of rival parties by intimidating their workers and removing publicity material with the help of police.

Samajwadi Party spokesperson Rajendra Chaudhary, while leveling similar charges against the Mayawati government, said that restrictions on banners and posters have made it difficult to campaign in the rural areas. “SMSes and TV advertising can help in reaching out to urban voters but in rural areas we need publicity material or else people would not come to know about the candidates. We apprehend this can impact the results in the elections,” he said.

However, irrespective of the views of political parties the common man on the street is pleased with low-profile and peaceful campaigning. “Earlier, once elections were over the parties would pay no heed to the mess created by the publicity material. While it was left to the civic bodies to clear the roads, cleaning home walls was people’s responsibility. At least, this time we have spared from the ordeal,” said Manish Rajput, a resident of Hussainganj.

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