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Wednesday, 27 April 2016

The Election Managers

Elections are not won by cadres. Just as fans are not the reason behind a film becoming a blockbuster. Let me give you an example. Take the much hyped and supposedly very successful drive by the BJP to enlist members through a ‘Missed Call’ campaign. The drive has apparently succeeded in enlisting 1 Crore new members for the party. Supposing the numbers spouted are indeed correct, what does it mean? In a country of 1.26 Billion people, assuming 50% of them are voters and further assuming an average of 66% polling which was the number, a record number, achieved during the 2014 General Elections it converts to less than 2.5% in actual votes! (For those who came in late, the present Govt of India was voted in with the largest majority in terms of seats in recent times on the back of 31% Votes share!) Similarly if the fans were the reason behind the success of a film what explains flops of even superstar films? A political party’s success at the hustings and a popular star’s success at box office is a result of what would be described as preference of unaffiliated voters or moviegoers.

So what use Cadres/Fans? Can we discount them? Yes, at our own peril. Cadres are important, very important. They are what is described as ‘party machinery’ or ‘foot soldiers’. People who cover the proverbial last mile to connect with the voters. Propagate the party’s achievements and enthuse the unaffiliated millions to remain connected with the party. Or take to the very same unaffiliated voters the wrongdoing of the ruling party and campaign to persuade the voter to switch sides. During non-election times, the cadres assist the party in keeping the voters sufficiently involved and enthused for the future appointment with the EVMs. Fans similarly bring in what in film trade parlance is called the ‘initial’. The box office takings over the initial weekend which often decides the trajectory if not the fate of the film. And during the periods when there is no release of the star’s film, they keep the star ‘alive’ in various forums to keep the enthusiasm going. (If you are a Star who has political ambitions, these fans act as the initial launch pads. Ask MGR, Jayalalitha, Vijaykanth and other ‘stars’ that are dime a dozen in the electoral landscape of the ancient land of Tamilnadu. Andhra/Telengana finishes a close runner up. Welcome!)

During my decade+ long stay in Kolkata, witness to multiple elections, never have I been more aware of the importance the cadres bring to the table for a political party, more so during the election season. From campaigning to organising ‘record attendance’ during the rallies, to being booth agents, to arrange transport of the voters to the polling booth and more. The nuts and bolts of fighting elections. The last mile. The real Election Managers. To give you an easier example to understand their importance, imagine you own a great TV channel whose programming is best in the world but none of the cable operators carry it to the viewers’ TV set! Or a great product but no sales team to reach it to the customers. Cadres are the cable operators and the sales team. The most important conduits that connects you to your consumers. 

Bengalis reading this would instantly connect with the services the cadres provide, especially given the frequent, almost routine complaints of ‘rigging or booth capturing’ one hears about elections in West Bengal. If you think, booth capturing is all about cadres just walking into the polling stations and stamping every ballot on the symbol of their own party while the hapless voters stares agape, all I can say is, Bollywood has spoiled you! ‘Rigging’ or ‘Booth Capturing’ let me assure you is a science. And it goes beyond its Bollywood portrayal of it. 

Maha Michil! A day in a cadre's life!

Winning elections start with the very start which is by providing good governance. Since this is something alien to most governments in India, it then becomes imperative to ‘manage’ the elections. Enter the foot soldiers. First of all an ‘environment’ is created and this exercise starts long before the elections are announced. Supporters of the opposition parties are sought to be won over by allurements or threats. Failing which many must disappear. The writ must run!

The polling day starts with booth jamming. The supporters are told to arrive the earliest to the polling station, cast vote first and ‘reserve’ places in the queue for the other supporters. If the polling station is in a locality which your experience says doesn’t support your party, the early birds go through the process slowly, slowly, slooowly so that the supporters of the other party can’t reach the polling officer within the stipulated hours of voting or far lesser than expected do.

Lal Salaam!

Once inside the polling station, the agents resort to objections. In booths which are hostile to your party, every voters antecedents are questioned, random objections raised, documents asked to be checked and rechecked so that the time consumed per voter increases and many if not most voters tired of the queue decide to either postpone their voting to a later hour or simply drop the idea in exchange of the blockbuster on TV! (The objections used to start with accusations of impersonation which has since been hit for a mighty six by the Election Commission. An EPIC win for the voter and the EC!)

Another genius invention of managing the booth is the effective use of Peto. For those who came in late Peto is a crude but low intensity bomb which is hurled near or outside the polling booths to scare away the voters from the polling booth/queue. Since Petos are manufactured in the unorganized sector, its impact varies from a Diwali Phataka to that of a fully loaded suicide bomber. Insiders know that peto once it is dropped in the close vicinity of a polling booth, leaves behind a loud ‘boom’ and hopefully nothing else which of course scares away the bhodrolok and bhodromohilas from the queue and gets them scooting so that the opposition has that many fewer votes.

I have also heard of the doors of the houses of the ‘sympathisers’ of the opposition are often locked from outside thereby either delaying or denying them completely the chance to vote against you! While I have been a witness to the modus oparandi behind booth management techniques mentioned above, I must confess I have never been locked in on polling day. Given that I am no longer a voter in West Bengal, chances of my experiencing the same has diminished by a big Dindigul!

Once the dust settles over the hustings, the results are declared, victory rallies are held, it is business as usual for the cadres belonging to the victorious party. The cadres of the losing candidate meanwhile drop everything and start exploring the possibilities of joining the victorious party!

PS: Not that I condone the violence but I found it quiet ridiculous to see the Baamponthi playing victims to TMC’s ‘terror tactics’ in the ongoing West Bengal Polls. TMC like a good student is after all following the well laid practices of the Left over the 34 years of their rule in Bengal!

Bhodralok/Bhadramohila : Gentlemen/Ladies
Dindigul : City in Tamilnadu famous for manufacture of Locks!
Baamponthi : Leftists
Phataka : Firecracker

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The Mother, The Scholar and The Captain!l

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

The Mother, The Scholar & The Captain

Any note on the forthcoming Assembly polls in Tamilnadu must, absolutely must start with a word of kudos to the efforts put in by the Election Commission to inform, promote and popularise the Right and the Duty of the electorate to exercise their franchise. No media outlet has been left unexplored, indeed been fully exploited to achieve the utopian target of “Nooru sadavidham” as the popular slogan goes! To the election commission goes the Man of the Match award even before the game has started. Now it is up to the electorates to score that century!
May 16th, 100 Sadavidham!
Tamilnadu elections, more than any other state in India is all about personality, to the extent it almost borders on being Presidential. Personality driven elections in Tamilnadu predates even “Indira is India, India is Indira” nationally.  From Aringnar Anna to M.G.Ramachandran to M.K.Karunanidhi  to J.Jayalalitha, elections are won and lost because you are either for or against the leader. The quip “Even a lamp post can win on a Congress ticket” during India’s initial days of experiments with the ballot box post Independence was given a fillip in Tamilnadu under the above mentioned stalwarts. To a large extent the scenario continues to dominate. Unless the candidate in question is universally unpopular, he/she is most likely to sail through or bite the dust not because of her/his standing or abilities but due to how the “Thalaivar/Thalaivi” is perceived at the time of punching the button on the EVM. And this shows no signs of abating in the near future either.

The other area where Tamilnadu has been the harbinger is the rise of regional parties which hardly have a footprint outside the borders of the state. Ever since the DMK drubbed the Congress in ’67, the state has been alternatively ruled by one or the other regional parties. From its initial role of being the kingmakers, Congress and subsequently all other ‘National’ parties have been reduced to being footnotes. The sprouting of a plethora of smaller regional parties making these ‘National’ parties mere ‘notional’ parties in the state.  

I, Me, Myself!
As time moved along, Tamilnadu elections have stopped being only about personalities. The recent elections can be aptly described as being all about alliances and appliances! The dictum the whole being bigger than  the sum of its parts was possibly perfected by the leading Dravidian parties in Tamilnadu. The multitude of political parties with various levels of influence geographically or among caste and religious divides are co-opted in the belief that all other parameters being equal, 2+1+1/2+1/4 = 234! (234 is the number of seats in the Tamilnadu Assembly you dummkopf. Welcome!)

Regional Parties! Just a glimpse!
The problem with arithmetic is that it can be duplicated. Also the breakaway factions among the political parties neutralized the arithmetic to a large extent as rival factions allied with rival camps! This led to the evolution of the next big idea to woo the voter. While freebies have always been in the backdrop of any Indian election, the freebie was usually food (Rice/Wheat/Take your pick) or a leg up for food production (free power to farmers etc.). In a first of its sort Tamilnadu added Colour Television among ‘necessities’ and offered it free to electorates! Soon Mixies, Fans, Laptops, Jewellery were added to the list and it has become a virtual free for all ever since! One wonders which among Smartphones, Refrigerators, Washing Machines, Dishwashers and Microwaves will make it to the manifestos this time around!

Kalaignar and 'Sonrise'?
#TNElections2016 is unique because after nearly three decades the polls are going to witness a multi cornered contests. In the blue corner is Amma fighting a ‘I,Me, Myself  vs the Rest’ contest. In the Red corner is her rival since eons, Kalaignar, the Nonagenarian leader desperate for his ‘Sonrise’, with Congress and some loose change parties for company. Waiting in the wings, hoping to get a toehold is a ragtag coalition of parties with more leaders than followers led by a Captain who is likely to traverse the entire road from being a possible kingmaker to wannabe king and despite the public bravado, praying he doesn’t end up a spoiler with no spoils. And finally there is this faceless, friendless, ally-less, leaderless party among the also-rans which is likely to end up with Participation Certificate! I refer to the same party which incidentally heads the Federal Govt of The Union of India!
I am no psephologist. And if you were expecting me to predict the outcome of the elections in this note, I am happy to disappoint you. All I can say here is I hope the election commission wins. And more importantly, with apologies to Ravi Shastri, I pray whoever wins, at the end of the day Tamilnadu will be the real winner!

The Real Winner Please!

PS: These parties are also fighting an election in the neighbouring Pondicherry which must right now be feeling like Rahul Dravid!

Nooru Sadavidham : 100%
Aringnar Anna : Sobriquet bestowed on C.K.Annadurai. Literal meaning Knowledgeable Elder Brother.
Amma: Popular nickname of TN CM J.Jayalalitha meaning Mother.
Kalaignar: Popular Nickname of former CM of TN, M.K.Karunanidhi meaning Artist/Scholar
Thalaivar/Thalaivi : Leader

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

No Whistle To Put Da :(

The carnival starts once again. That time again when "Indiaaaaaa India!" chants will be replaced by "AaarrrrCeeeeeBeeee" and "Aami Kolkata" and its ilk. That time again when Virat Kohli will stop belonging to us, instead will belong to Bangalore. When a section of the Indians will root for Glenkeerat Singh Maxwell to take Ashwin to the cleaners. Move over Nation vs Nation, it is my city bestest time now! It is time now for IPL!

While the country and the cricket fans across the globe ready up the war paint to support their favorite teams, there is one set of people who are lost. Even before the tournament starts. Not for them is "Ek India Happywala!" Far from it! They are the supporters of one of the most keenly followed teams, CSK. Probably the most vociferous and high decibel set of fans that any IPL team possesses. (Sorry Rajasthan but neither the numbers nor the volume levels of your fans stand a fig of a chance vs those of CSK. Hoot! Hoot!)

For those who came in late, CSK and RR have been banned as per strictures from the Supreme Court Of India for a period of two seasons for indulging in social service activities like betting and spot fixing. Post many a hearing and appeals, the ban stands. If the Rajasthan Royals fans are disappointed, they didn't showcase it much beyond the cursory tweets and Facebook posts. From what I can gather, they seem to have moved on. The CSK fan? Well that needs a paragraph or two. Read on!

No Whistlepodu! No Halla Bol!

Media reports first emerged about a fairly high decibel signature campaign asking the courts to pardon the club "for us fans"! Then a few thousands assembled up at various locations and stadias to accuse BCCI and other "Naarth Indians" of victimizing us knowledgeable folks residing in the south of Vindhyas (Bangalore and Hyderabad are in California. Welcome!) The last and presently ongoing campaign especially on Social Media is #NoCSKNoIPL which is likely to run its course during the course of the forthcoming IPL season and may make its sporadic appearance till and in the next.

Chennai Super Kingskku Signature podu!

There are essentially two types of CSK fans. The first who supported the team in the first place because their favourite cricketer was sporting its colours. Nothing else explains why a Jharkhandi or a Bhaiyya from UP, separated by miles of Indian territory should be supporting the "Madrasis". Such fans of Captain Cool or Sweet Sonu have moved on to support the new franchisees for which the said players have signed up. The other and more passionate set of fans whose umbilical cord is tied to Chennai first and the players next, whose other pastimes include #StopHindiImposition and #BloodyAmits are the ones in a serious dilemma as to what do they do next. It is for these fans my heart bleeds. Bleeds yellow. And it is for these fans I have a few suggestions. First is these fans should boycott the next two IPL seasons. It is an old strategy but still effective. It worked for Mahatma Gandhi, it worked for #BoycottDilwale and #NoDealOnSnapdeal, it can well work for them too. There is however one hitch. Unlike "Indhi filims" Cricket is an all encompassing religion and boycotting it is well neigh impossible.

Bleed purple, fuschia, blue and a little yellow. Sigh!

The other is to attend every match at the stadium, carry huge banners saying #NoCSKNoIPL and #BleddyBCCI and hope you catch the cameras. Effective it may or may not be, expensive it surely will be!

Sweet Sonu is still a Lion!

As a great fan of this brand of masala cricket and as someone who is married to Chennai I propose a way out of this quagmire. (Seri Seri! Coimbatore is not Chennai but #TodayWeAreAllChennaiites suffices!)
Turn the handicap into an asset. Watch every match and without any qualms or pressure. Enjoy the cricket. And troll the fans of every other club! They can't troll you back. Enjoy the ride. Detoxify over the next two seasons and come back strongly to #Whistlepodu in IPL 2018! Hopefully with namma Chennai paiyyan Ashwin as the Thala of the team!

Pudhiya "Thala"imurai???

Aami Kolkata - I am Kolkata
Namma Chennai Paiyyan - Our Chennai lad
Pudhiya Thalaimurai - Next Generation. Thala- Nickname given to CSK Captain