Headlines, Herrings & HMV
The 1st of December was a cold morning, with temperatures the previous night plummeting to 6’C, heralding the onset of winter in Kanpur, where I live. But what really sent a chill down my spine was the election results of the U.P. civic polls to 16 Municipal Corporations (Nagar Nigams), 198 Nagar Palikas (Municipalities) and 438 Nagar Panchayats (Town Areas). Municipal Corporations are those that have more than 60 wards, while Municipalities have more than 25 wards and a population of 1,00,000, and Town Areas need to have a population of 20,000, with 75% of land being non-agricultural.
I was trying to get some vitamin D by sitting out in the sun. I had actively canvassed for my friend who was standing for corporator from our municipal ward. He had been elected three times before, but could not contest the previous polls in 2012 because the seat had been reserved for women. This time it was a general category seat, so he was again in the fray. With an honest reputation and an unenviable record of social service, he was expected to win, hands down. He was considered the most knowledgeable member of the house. But he lost, and badly. The sun seemed to have set before noon, when I heard the news.
He lost to the BJP candidate, who has cases of alleged murder and rape pending against him. In the previous term this person’s illiterate wife was the corporator, by virtue of being a woman. She had never been seen in public life in her 5 year tenure. Her husband, who now won, was a parshad pati (a modern term coined to explain the phenomenon of husbands’ of corporators, village heads etc). More on women’s reservations later.
By late afternoon the TV news started trickling in, claming that it was a sweeping victory for the BJP; and contrary to the nay sayers who had prophesised that demonetisation and GST had hit the common man. We were told that the BJP won the posts of 14 of the 16 mayors in the Nagar Nigams, and the remaining two were won by Mayawati’s BSP (which had been written off after the last Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections). I was shocked and couldn’t make sense of what I was seeing.
Here in Kanpur, the Congress candidate (again a seat reserved for women) was widely perceived as being the front runner. She was runner up, despite garnering 2,91,591 votes. The seat was won by the BJP, whose candidate got 3,96,725 votes. This lady roams around sporting a pistol, and rides a scooter without a helmet. So what can we expect? Is this what the people voted for – power flowing from the barrel of a gun (a la Mao) and scant regard for the rule of law?
I will continue with my analysis of the Kanpur results because I believe that such are often microcosms of the whole. The BJP candidate who was first past the post, got 3,96,725 votes of the 9,42,389 cast, from a voters’ list of 21,35,072 (probably more than the population of Goa State). So in effect the BJP got 18.6% of the total voters, followed by the Congress with 13.7% and the SP with 5.8%. The votes of the latter two total up to more than that of the BJP. So how was the media projecting this as a BJP sweep? Of the 110 Corporators the BJP got 58, independents came second with 18, and the Congress with 17 was the second largest party. So again, how can this be portrayed as a wash out of the Congress?
Is the media deliberately misleading the public? Are the headlines red herrings strewn across our path, so that we may listen only to His Master’s Voice (HMV)? Alert citizens need to read between the lines and scan the fine print.
Let alone a sweep, the BJP has actually lost ground – 11.5 percentage points since the Lok Sabha elections of 2014 or 9.2 percentage points since the Vidhan Sabha elections held just 8 months earlier. If anything, this is a danger signal for the BJP. Table I below clearly illustrates the point. The only gainer in the civic polls has actually been the Congress, other than the major gains of independents, that picked up a staggering 1,77,65,721 votes!
TABLE I – PERCENTAGE OF VOTES POLLED
|Party||Lok Sabha 2014||Vidhan Sabha 2017||Civic 2017||Gain/ Loss over 2014|
In 2014 the BJP won 71 of 80 Lok Sabha seats (89%), but slipped 12 percentage points in the Vidhan Sabha elections, winning 312 of 403 seats (77%). Barring the mayoral victories, the BJP has slid badly on all other fronts in the percentage of seats won. See Table II.
TABLE II – PERCENTAGE OF SEATS WON
|Party||Nagar Nigam Mayors (16)||Nagar Nigam Corporators (1300)||Nagar Palika Chairpersons (198)||Nagar Palika Members (5261)||Nagar Panchayat Chairpersons (438)||Nagar Panchayat Members (5434)|
The termites are slowly emerging from the woodwork. A delayed report in the Times of India states that the BJP actually lost its deposit in 3656 (45%) seats that it contested, while winning just 2366 (30%). So where is the sweep?
This civic election also saw defeats in the home constituencies of several political stalwarts. The media of course would like us to begin with Rahul Gandhi’s Lok Sabha constituency, Amethi, where the Congress was whitewashed. But the same media does not highlight that the BJP also lost the six seats in Kaushambi, the home turf of Keshav Chandra Maurya, the Dy CM of U.P., or in Chakiyanagar Panchayat, the home town of Home Minister Rajnath Singh. Similarly the SP lost all the seats in Kannauj, the parliamentary constituency of Dimple Yadav, the wife of Akhilesh. The BJP lost the ward in Gorakhpur where CM Yogi cast his vote. It was won by a Muslim. This affirms the Hindi saying “Deepak tale andhera” (darkness surrounds the lamp).
Despite the “saffron wave” and Yogi’s saffron garb, 16 Muslims in Gorakhpur won from among the 70 wards, not restricted to Muslim dominated areas. Muslim independent candidates won across the State. Another interesting titbit is that though the BJP dominated the cities, closely followed by the Congress; in the mofussil towns the SP and BSP both fared much better. EVMs were used only in the cities, and ballot papers in the outer areas, again lending credence to the growing crescendo that the EVMs are tampered with to favour the BJP.
I have two more juicy bits from my hometown. Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM got one Corporator, but he was not a Muslim. To the contrary he is a Sonkar, traditionally pig rearers, who are anathema to the Muslims. Wonders never cease! The other titbit is about a Corporator whose seat was declared a woman’s seat. In his desperation to retain it he scouted for a bride, found one a week before the nominations were to close, got married and also got her elected! If this isn’t Hindustani jugaad, what is?
This brings me to my last point of reservation by rotation, where seats are allocated to different categories like women, SC, ST, OBC etc on the whims of the Govt. This results in shadow leaders, especially for the women. Most of them remain hidden while the pati parshads call the shots. This defeats the very purpose of women’s empowerment. It is also an injustice to a serving member who cannot seek re-election because of the change in gender or caste in that particular constituency. This anomaly in civic elections needs to be seriously addressed.
For now the urban populace has voted. The BJP has undoubtedly won the maximum number of seats against a fractured opposition. But it is anything but a sweep as sought to be projected by the HMV media. Like Padmavati, it is just another red herring thrown in our path to make headlines, and distract us from the ground realities.
* The writer is the Convenor of the Kanpur Nagrik Manch