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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

Those who read this also visit:
The Mother, The Scholar and The Captain!l


  1. Well narrated the loop holes of democratic elections.
    The recent trend is hijack the booth. , finish the voting of all the listed,
    Electorate within few minutes.,
    This happen to us at chennai during the last corporation elections.

  2. Enjoyed your lens on election fraud.