Nothing can match the rhetoric and the theatrics that the politicians indulge in during an election campaign in a pulsating democracy like ours. Yes, an election battlefield is the place for the histrionics and the best real-life stage show – the media meanwhile laps it up and the voter silently watches the performance.
The 2012 Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections were no different – the seven-phased polls and the long campaign trail threw up some amusing and theatrical moments which beat even the best Bollywood scripts – let’s sample them.
Rahul Gandhi – The angry young man
The general secretary of the Congress party, Rahul Gandhi, hit the campaign trail in UP in his new avatar of ‘angry-young-man’ in the mode of Amitabh Bachchan of ‘Deewar’. He was angry at Mayawati and her ‘elephants’ that were ‘eating away all the money’ meant for the poor. He was angry at the Samajwadi Party for having neglected Muslims in the state. He was angry that the people of UP had to go and find work in Delhi, Punjab and Maharashtra. He was so angry that he did not shave for days and rolled up his Kurta sleeves adding to the get-up.
In his anger he tore up a mock manifesto of the Samajwadi Party – he paused for effect like a good stage artist, while the spectators clapped. His was so angry that the gen-next of SP, Akhilesh Yadav had to finally advise him to ‘control his anger’ lest he ‘jumps off the stage’. “Anger is not good for health,” he quipped.
The three ‘Dabanggs’ - Salman, Beni, Jaiswal
Law Minister Salman Khurshid seemed to take his name a bit too seriously. There was Salman on the stage in UP where the spectators were the real-life voters and then there was Salman in the movie ‘Dabangg’. The Law Minister in Salman Khan mode took on the Election Commission head on and roared melodramatically – Even if the Commission ‘hangs me I would ensure that the people of Pasmanda community get their rights’. What was the trigger – EC’s diktat to him not to violate the model code of conduct and promise 9% sub-quota for backward Muslims, if the Congress was voted to power. Whatever happened to the soft-spoken Law Minister – guess elections have a knack of bringing out a side of human beings never seen before.
Wait, there is more. Just when the Khurshid drama had ended on quota for minorities, it started once again - like the never ending daily soaps of television queen Ekta Kapoor. The characters though had changed this time but the script was the same. Two other Union Ministers, Beni Prasad Verma and Sriprakash Jaiswal joined the Khurshid chorus - We promise reservation for Muslims...
Though Beni deserves an award for one of the best one-liners said during the polls – chunav mein jake kya bole, Hanuman chalisa padhe – ‘should I go and read out Hanuman Chalisa during election rallies’. One has to admit – the man cannot be beaten on logic.
Ominous Sriprakash Jaiswal
On America’s ‘war against terror’ the ex-president of US, George Bush had sent out a stern message to all and sundry – “Either you are with us or against us.” In what sounded equally ominous Union Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal rumbled – “Either its Congress rule or President’s Rule in Uttar Pradesh.” The Opposition cried foul and the minister said he had been misquoted.
But just as the dust was settling on this one, Jaiswal fired another one – “Rahul Gandhi can become Prime Minister at 12 midnight, he can administer the oath of office and no one can stop that,” he said in the holy city of Mathura.
Needless to say the Congress went red in the face as the Opposition again cried foul. Well that may never happen literally but admittedly it’s a little funny if one imagines the scene – Poor Manmohan Singh being woken up from deep slumber at midnight only to be told – no, Pakistan had not attacked us – but that he was no longer the Prime Minster of India.
And Sonia cried...
The Law Minster was not finished yet. In what seemed like getting his memory back Salman Khurshid suddenly remembered something that he had to tell the voters – after all the setting could not have been better – the election campaign in UP was in full form and the Muslims were all ears. He had a secret to share with them – do you know Congress president and chairman of the UPA, Sonia Gandhi had been moved to ‘tears’ and had cried on seeing the photos of the Batla House encounter in Delhi. (This after the Union Home Minister had gone on record to say that the shooting was genuine.) There were gasps – no, not from the public but from his own partymen who scurried for cover and immediately and predictably refuted what the Law Minister had said.
Mayawati’s key to power
“I hold the master key to power” – thundered Mayawati in one of the best lines to have come out of these polls. But would someone explain what that means? The poll pundits may have written her off but the Dalit-ki-beti went on to say – “My party will do even better than 2007. We will once again form the government.” Again will someone explain – where did she get this confidence from?
But the best part was when she told the eager crowd – “If you vote for the Congress, all the poor and unemployed would have to go to other states to earn their livelihood." Was this Mayawati or Rahul Gandi speaking or did they get their speeches mixed up?
And then there was the high drama of the Election Commission ordering the BSP to cover up the statues of Mayawati and her elephants (her party’s symbol) – it was indeed a ‘jumbo’ exercise. The not-so-shy Mayawati complete with her purse was veiled like a shy bride behind pink clothes.
Mulayam’s Kabhi Haan Kabhi Na
In one of the fastest U-turns in recent memory, probably beating the Formula One racing cars, the boss of the Samajwadi Party, fondly called ‘Netaji’, extended his loving support to the Congress party and backtracked soon after – all in a matter of 24 hours.
“There is wave in favour of SP, which is going to form next government in the state...If I see BJP coming to power, our party can support Congress in the state to prevent communal forces,” the ever-so-willing Mulayam announced grandly.
But in a classic example of ‘did we invite you’, the Congress made him feel like an unwanted guest and said that the question was ‘premature and unnecessary’ before the votes were counted.
No guesses what happened then. The SP chief wasting no time called a hurriedly convened press conference in Lucknow – "The question of giving or taking support to Congress or anyone else does not arise as SP is getting absolute majority in the state." Bravo!
Some of the leaders of Bhartiya Janata Party left the journalists as well as the voters a little confused as to which party they were campaigning for. The other Gandhi, Varun, the BJP MP from Pilibhit, grandly announced that the Samajwadi Party would emerge as the single largest party in UP. There was more to come – he did not think the results would be ‘super magnificent’ for the BJP. Before the party’s cadres could recover he fired another salvo – “There are 55 chief ministerial candidates in UP as far as the BJP is concerned.” Talk of sarcasm.
What could the senior leaders do than to sigh at their young leader’s wise ones and add good-humouredly - “Varun Gandhi is an intelligent leader and good psephologist. His predictions are not as a BJP leader but as a psephologist.”
Another BJP leader from Madhya Pradesh too forgot that he had gone to Uttar Pradesh to campaign for the saffron party. State Urban Development Minister Babulal Gaur, returned after addressing election meetings in 12 constituencies in the northern state and grandly announced - "SP will lead in UP followed by the BSP.”
He was not finished yet – Congress star campaigner Priyanka Gandhi had impressed him no end. She reminded him of Indira Gandhi. Need we say more?
One-liners – Made for elections
Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal is like a taxi in which any one can sit and put the meter down. - Nitin Gadkari
Our party, the Samajwadi Party, vows to eradicate hooliganism from the state if brought to power. All culprits will be sent to prison. – Mulayam Singh Yadav
Mayawati is a stone-hearted woman. She has proved it by spending people`s money on parks and memorials of stones in the state. – Sushma Swaraj
Return to the Congress is like homecoming. If a person comes back home by evening after losing the way, he cannot be said to have gone astray. – Actor Sanjay Dutt
If we had spoken a little less it would have been better. – Congress state unit chief Rita Bahuguna Joshi
The BJP has lifted several key sops and promises from the SP manifesto. - Akhilesh Yadav
I have once defeated Rahul Gandhi’s mentor Digvijay Singh in Madhya Pradesh. I will defeat Rahul too. – Uma Bharti
Do Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi have Aladdin`s lamp. - BSP
Photo-ops – Especially packaged for the polls
There were quite a few but Priyanka Gandhi pulling the cheeks of her mother Sonia Gandhi made the media fall over each other to get the best angle. And again Priyanka with her young kids on the stage while campaigning in UP was played throughout the day in a loop on TV channels. We Indians simply love emotional family drama and nostalgia – don’t we?
The best for the last
Enter Robert Vadra – Priyanka Gandhi’s husband. The setting was perfect. He was in the hotbed of Indian politics. He had come to campaign for his bother in-law, Rahul. What better place than this to make a grand announcement – that he would ‘join politics at the right time’ and ‘if people wanted him to’. Priyanka was quick to tell the journalists that they must have confused him with their questions and that Robert was happy being a businessman. We may never know if the Gandhi family was embarrassed at this one.
Can any Bollywood masala film be more entertaining than an election taking place in India?