Votes, notes and prison terms

Can INDIA bloc turn sympathy over prosecution into votes?

There is a sympathy vote in this election, too. No cause for alarm. No big leader has been assassinated. Perish the thought.

Most of us think sympathy votes come riding on waves of tears shed after assassinations, and that they take the ship of the departed leader’s party to the shores of victory. Won’t blame you, especially if you are of my age or older. We had the bad luck of voting twice over blood and tears.

The first was in 1984, when Indira Gandhi was assassinated. Her son Rajiv called for early polls which he won with the largest majority ever. A case of tears turning into votes.

In 1991, Rajiv himself was murdered midway through an election. The Congress, which had begun to be marginalised in a ‘mandalised’ and ‘mandirised’ India, recovered in the post-assassination rounds of polling. It came up as the single largest party, and formed a minority government. Again, tears had turned into votes.

Illustration: Deni Lal Illustration: Deni Lal

We Indians vote with the heart, and not with the mind. Passions sway us more than reason. Parties know this; so they seek to rouse fiery passions (BJP style) or evoke softer feelings (Congress style) in our minds.

As discussed in this column two weeks ago, the BJP hasn’t found any cause to rouse passions yet. But the Congress and the INDIAns seem to have found something to evoke sympathy. The good thing is—you don’t need an assassination for that. Play the victim card in a political or prosecution deal, and leave the rest to the kind-hearted masses.

Would it work? It has. Remember how George Fernandes won the 1977 election when he was cooling his heels as an undertrial in a nasty dynamite case? His supporters plastered the walls with posters showing him behind bars and in handcuffs. The Mangalorean from Mumbai won with a huge margin from Muzaffarpur in Bihar, where none had even heard his name earlier. Since then there have been many.

Not every jailbird gets the votes. You have to look the injured innocent who had got a raw deal from a cruel regime. Like Arvind Kejriwal. He had been playing the victim part in his tiffs with the lieutenant-governor and the Narendra Modi regime all along; now, though not a candidate, he is performing like a thespian after going to jail. There is no liquor bribe trail to nail him, he says; yet he has been sent to jail sans his insulin shots. His partymen are out on the Delhi streets with Fernandes-style placards and posters, and renting the polluted air with the slogan “jail ka jawab vote se” (counter jail with vote).

A jail term isn’t necessary either. Look at Rahul Gandhi. He was convicted in a defamation case which entailed him being barred from contesting for six years. Then on he was going from court to court, his prosecutors following him on every step, and taxmen slapping pay-up notices. Every dart has been hurting him, but also making him look revered as a young Bhishma on a bed of arrows, or a St Sebastian who was tied to a tree and shot with so many arrows that he looked like a pin-cushion.

As the poll campaign opened, and taxmen froze his party accounts, Rahul passed the hat around saying, “We have no money to buy even train tickets.” His men went around the streets and homes with buckets in hand seeking crowd funds, much like how Kanshi Ram built up his BSP in the 1980s seeking “a note and a vote”. Mind you, every note-giver is also giving a pro-note for a vote. Smart! Others spend money to get votes; these guys get money with votes!

Today, if every party in INDIA has got a sympathy card to play, the regime and its raiders have themselves to blame.