“A citizen of America will cross the ocean to fight for democracy, but won’t cross the street to vote in a national election.” – Bill Vaughan
Though that might seem nothing less than a zinger yet the contention it reverberates is true to the core not only for U.S. but more so for Indians. Yeah! We, Bharatvasis with an electorate of 714 million (as per the 2009 electorate) that is larger than the electorate of the United States and European Union combined yet had an abysmal turn-out of 59.7%, a number that poses a question on our ability to choose when it is just a vote away! Mucked up with these factoids, I thought of getting an ingenuous picture from the hands of the one who’s been able to cut through the muddle making it seemingly a see-it-all for the en masse so that I, We & Us are able to assimilate things in a better way. Bearing this intention in mind, I picked up the book ‘Braking News’ authored by NDTV anchor & news reporter Ms. Sunetra Choudhury.
Ms. Choudhary has tried to spill the beans regarding her stint on the NDTV Election Bus that covered almost 15,000 kilometers across the country in the backdrop of imminent elections ready to send doldrums across the vast stretch of different States. Well, I must admit without feigning any pseudo-critic mask that the book does give you an insight into the myriad aspects and the importance General Elections hold for our ‘Aam Aadmi’, their expectations from those who are contesting them and the travails of those who are perhaps bearing the brunt of supporting or choosing the wrong person for that matter. But then that chuffed spirit simply fizzles somewhere down the line when you begin to feel if it is an account of a seasoned journo or the travelogue of a lass who has just got whiff of fresh air as she gets that chance to freak from a nothing less than a cubby-hole like newsroom. As she confesses that her channel likes digging on those stories that are saleable, NDTV Election Bus trip ensured our beloved Sunetra a sabbatical though for a brief period wherein at least she would have to do away with that cribbing about being just an MC-BC (news parlance that connotes Mike Carrier and Byte Collector), point taken Ms. Gen-Next-not-so-sensitive scribe! And she had to go for it since there was already a disaffirmation she felt guilty about, that being the incident of the incinerating instances throughout the country when clashes had broken out between the Sikhs and the Dera Sacha Sauda supporters in 2007 and also to be reprieved from the quotidian assignments that are usually hurled at journalists, one such instance being when she was literally compelled to hang around Una and deliver a report on how the youth in the vicinity was forced to leave their native place in search of jobs and were eventually trundled away to Iraq.
So our journey finally takes off from Delhi with the first sojourn being the city of Bharatpur, the place was under the scanner for being the hearth of the ongoing tussle between the Gujjars and the Meenas, with Col. Bainsla becoming an almost household name. With the PLU (People like Us) leader, Sachin Pilot dawdling Sunetra dearie and Maharaja Vishvendra Singh turning down the hopes of a calm Naghma Seher, ah! That certainly doesn’t seems to be a bang-on start nevertheless we do get a chance to bump into a flotilla of women belonging to the Gujjar and Meena communities and what we do get an insight into is nothing less than a shocker. Women choosing not to sit on the charpoy for that’s the place fixed for the men of the household reflects the moribund state of our society that stagnates with patriarchal dominance still lurking out there.
Soon the brightly painted red colored bus makes it’s way into the city of Taj Mahal, Agra. A confrontation with Gurwinder Singh reveals the chinks that often mar the growth in small towns of India, Gurwinder being left with no option than to call it quits to his BPO venture and harp on to becoming a guide in the city galore with tourist. A tete-a-tete is soon followed with a bunch of girls who are fashionista-wannabes and cite Rakhi Sawant as their role model, for this woman who thrives on insinuations, expletives and derring-do that seem to baffle the normal sane person yet rekindles an inexplicable aspiration in small town girls who want to make it big in the glitzy world. And we met a puerile politician like Raj Babbar who despite donning the act of a father to an overtly ambitious son in ‘Bunti aur Babli’ is oblivious of those dreams that bloom in his vicinity.
So far so good, and though the travel to hinterland is pockmarked with crater like potholes and intimidated by buffalo jams yet, you seem to relish it somehow. Now starts what you may call a purgatory state for the reader, since I’m genuinely not interested in their sugarcane juice tale or how Naghma gave instructions to clean that machine with water, narrator’s incessant loo woes, well nobody in the whole world likes to behold ‘stray floaters’ in the toilet honey! And those never-ending heart-wrenching accounts of driver, cameraperson and their inter-personal equations for though they might be a cog in the wheel yet their importance can’t certainly be overlooked and yes, Ganga SinghJi the driver, Mohammad and Nishant, camera-personnel for the trip do command reverence at the end of it. But guys, give me a break, is it really a personal account of an attempt that is directed at gauging the barometer of the moods just before the elections or is it supposed to be replete with the natter of an apparent teeny-weeny who likes grilling at the ‘lal-maas’ like a true bong!
Moving on, we have on our platter this exclusive story with a ‘sexy angle’ from Shivpuri, M.P., a dam that has had been under construction for the past 34 years, the ‘Atal Sagar Dam’ whose completion has been a task, being bequeathed amidst a slew of politicians with the hunt still going on for a plausible ‘one’ who can pull it off. A futile effort to tickle your funny bone is also made when she rather asks naively an arms-carrying pillion rider on a bike if he was a dacoit who much to our surprise turns out to be a Sanskrit teacher. Though it was an audacious act enough on part of Sunetra, the brave-heart, I wasn’t least impressed or even ruffled with such buffoonery! Though the agony and the wreathing pain of erstwhile BSP supporters like Durjan Member residing in Penchmohalla, Jhansi touches you somewhere deep, the man now being left in the gallows of abject poverty while his role-model Mayawati alias Behenji gloats over the glint of the sparkling diamonds adorning her. We are also apprised of the probity becoming synonymous with one and only politician in India, Naveen Patnaik affably known as Pappu Patnaik, who doesn’t mind lowering the glass panes of his ambassador car and stroll around like a free-spirited bird who’s not afraid of anyone.
Not everyone does get an opportunity to travel across India trying to get into the nitty gritty of all those some evident and others that seem to be the muffled factors, yet play a pivotal role in marking the hues of the election canvass. And baby you lose it, you just let it all go like sand flowing out from the grasp of your hands, no figures, no data, forget analysis! There could have been concrete views being churned out at the end of it regarding voting patterns, inclination based on caste, communities, issues that are suddenly inflated prior to elections sabotaging those problems that mar the very pace of normal life! In the entire precincts of Vadodara perhaps you can never assimilate the miffed voices of the minority community by visiting the Yusuf Pathan, the ace Indian Cricket bowler’s household! Similarly there must be more surrounding the success story of ‘Seedless Pawars’ in the town of Baramati! Ugh! It wasn’t’ supposed to be a eulogy! Right?? Nasik, being the host to give our mam her wine-stimulated-nirvana-moment, all this stuff being simply nauseating beyond a point.
While the young boys of Jharkhand who despite knowing six languages yearn for the knowledge of English, having been apprised of what would bring good job offers to them; Muthalik, Ram Sene’s henchman aided, BJP candidate Ram Bhatt condescending the fact that it doesn’t matter who supports him in Mangalore and the stark contrast that comes out with two women trying hard to retain their honor amidst hordes of knavish men surrounding them, Draupadi Murmu in Sundardih village of Mayurbhanj and actress Jaya Prada in Moradabad district of Uttar Pradesh exemplifying the grit a woman has to display when she is contesting elections that’s nonetheless like walking on a tightrope. A perfect kaleidoscope that could have been even brilliant if it was sprinkled with in-depth analysis and those connecting dots were joined in a manner that could have brought out a lucid picture of the mumbo jumbo we refer to as the largest democracy of the world. Well, no worries Ms. Choudhury, 2014 general elections ain't that far!!!