Great India Drive

The magic of 370 SUVs

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The magic of 370 SUVs

Tuesday, 17 September 2019 | Shobhit Mahajan

The cavalcade seemed unending and 10 am on a Sunday morning is an unusual time to be stuck in a traffic jam. The reason, it turns out, is the huge number of Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs) blocking the road. Each vehicle is adorned with big posters informing us that this is a rally for one of the prospective candidates for the upcoming Legislative Assembly elections due by the end of the year. The rally is to go to Rohtak to impress the party leader who has his own roadshow there. Young lumpens wearing saffron T-shirts with the prospective candidate’s photograph on it are energetically hanging out of the SUVs, a la Bollywood heroes. Going by the chaos and noise that is already being generated, I shudder to imagine what we are in for over the next few weeks.

I shouldn’t have been surprised though. For the last couple of months, the whole of Delhi has been humming with election-related activity. The number of ticket seekers for the ruling party’s nomination, since that seems a no-brainer, has been growing every day. And each of these prospects is outdoing the other by showering the electorate with incentives as well as plastering the whole city with their hoardings. T-shirts, clocks, badges, caps and saffron scarves are all the rage it seems. Each of these items helpfully has the benevolent donor’s photograph along with of course our leader’s picture — as if it was not enough to have his face ubiquitously staring at us from billboards publicising the Ujala Scheme, Ayushman Bharat and other sundry welfare programmes. It is the same story with hoardings — there is hardly an electricity pole, or a tree or even a fence left which does not carry multiple posters.

A novelty in this election is the use of the social media. Almost all of them have bought advertising space from Google and Facebook. Open a search page and there you have the smiling mug shot of one or more of these candidates promising to turn the dusty and dirty city into a paradise. Fortunately no one is promising to make the pot-holed roads as smooth as the cheeks of a baby as yet!

Incentives, hoardings and social media are not the only outlets being used to publicise and woo voters. Some candidates have found innovative methods of luring the electorate. Organising religious sermons and body-building contests seem passé—the latest one is religious tourism. One candidate organised an all-expenses paid trip to Vaishno Devi. Every day, for about a month, several air-conditioned Volvo busses would take people to the shrine. Their food, lodging and, of course, travel all taken care of. The buses carried huge banners with the suitably saffron-attired candidate’s photograph. It remains to be seen whether those who earned some religious merit  due to his benevolence would reciprocate on election day.

Then there is another candidate who is going about all this with a precision which would make a management guru proud. This gentleman started his campaign early—hoardings with his mustachioed face, suitably air-brushed to soften the obviously macho image have been all over the city for more than two months. The gentleman in question is the scion of an immensely wealthy family—his father, who incidentally has also unsuccessfully contested many elections, owns large swathes of property in and around the city.

The candidate has obviously hired an image consultant as well as a political strategist to appeal to different segments. Thus, for instance, a musical evening is organised with a popular singer to attract teenagers, while a programme honouring ex-servicemen with several mustachioed generals is held to buttress his patriotic credentials. Since one of the largest communities now in the city is from Poorvanchal, a gala extravaganza was organised recently with performances by all the leading lights of Bhojpuri cinema. This event was meticulously planned with camera cranes and mega sized projection screens to showcase the candidate while the audience of migrant Poorvanchalis waited patiently for their favourite stars to make an appearance. These and other events are then also advertised through ads in leading English dailies.

Needless to say, all this costs a large amount of money. Of course, the elections have not been announced and so the model code of conduct is not in force. But I wonder whether the sleuths of the tax department are taking note of tens of crores which are being so obviously spent by the candidates? The next time I get an Income Tax notice to explain an income of a few thousand, I shall be recalling the ubiquitous mustachioed face! I am pondering all this while sitting in the traffic jam while the SUV cavalcade inches along. I notice that the cars are all numbered sequentially and there is another number too on each of them-370. It turns out that the candidate was so enamoured by the recent heroic acts of the present dispensation that he decided to take a caravan of 370 SUVs to welcome the leader. I thanked our founding fathers for restricting the number of Articles in the Constitution to 448 only.

(The writer is a Professor, Department of Physics & Astrophysics, Delhi University)

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