February 19, 2020
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Freaks & Winning Streaks

Having scored zero on performance, political parties are relying on nautanki and tamasha to lure voters to polling booths.

Freaks & Winning Streaks
It seems harder than ever, in these times of public indifference to the electoral process, to catch the voter's eye. Films, filmstars and freebies for voters are the order of the day. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, with more than 5,000 candidates in the fray: royalty jostles with dons, eunuchs with sophisticated socialites, godmen with gangsters, big businessmen with small traders, wives with mistresses. And the usual complement of nephews and nieces and in-laws and siblings of the powerful provide fodder for scribes.

Is the plethora of odd candidates and the reliance on showmanship an indication of voters' disgust with the political class? If Uttar Pradesh's electorate, having experienced six chief ministers in as many years, chooses to send a eunuch or a magician rather than an established politician to the Uttar Pradesh vidhan sabha, can we blame them? At the very least, it should give Uttar Pradesh's netas some food for thought.

Gimmicks—the more bizarre the better—galore. Amitabh Bachchan and Hema Malini, campaigning for the Samajwadi Party and BJP respectively, may take your breath away but SP nominee and professional magician O.P. Sharma leaves you gasping with his mind-blowing tricks. The BJP's Balti Baba relies on tantrik vidya, the Rashtriya Lok Dal's Pratap Singh on dispensing free milk. Predictably, there's no lack of money, as candidates pour crores into innovative campaigns.

Of dons there is no dearth. All three principal candidates in Hamirpur's Modha constituency have police records: Badshah Singh of the BJP, Raj Nath Budholia of the SP and Hari Mardan Singh of the BSP. A similar situation obtains in Misrikh in Sitapur district. The notorious don Raja Bhaiyya and his bodyguard, Ram Nath, are once again in the fray from neighbouring seats in Pratapgarh. Dons like Dadua and Brajesh Singh, who are not directly participating, have fielded relatives. Seema Parihar, a Phoolan Devi wannabe who'd filed her papers from Etawah, withdrew at the last moment. Dara Singh—who is in jail as the chief accused in the Staines murders—didn't have to withdraw as mercifully his papers were rejected in Ghaziabad.

The Uttar Pradesh poll appears to have its own peculiar law of "relativity". In Shauhratgarh, Ravindra Pratap and Sadhna Choudhury, husband and wife, are slugging it out on an SP and BJP ticket respectively. The Congress has given tickets to a husband-wife team, on the basis of their lineage: Ashok and Ranjana Vajpayee are son and daughter-in-law of Rajendra Kumari Vajpayee, a former leader of the party.

For the eunuch community, this election could be a defining moment. No less than 18 are in the fray, one of whom has been fielded by the Congress. Lucknow alone boasts three eunuch candidates: Sridevi, Payal and Chunmun. Kanpur too has several third-sex representatives. So, having scored zero on performance, political parties are relying on nautanki and tamasha to lure voters to polling booths.

Bhavdeep Kang and Sutapa Mukerjee in Uttar Pradesh
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