The polls in the national capital are no insignificant feature for the media. This year’s polls are especially being watched keenly for these important reasons: firstly, polls in the national capital are being considered nothing short of a prelude to the next year’s Lok Sabha elections; secondly, the rise of Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has taken even the most traditional political watchers by surprise; and thirdly, the Narendra Modi factor for the Bharatiya Janata Party and the depleting Rahul Gandhi popularity.
The ‘macro’ reasons apart, recent social and economic issues will also play a crucial role in drawing people to poll booths. The rising prices, especially that of onion and diesel, inflation, rising incidents of rape and the subsequent failure of the administration to address people’s basic issues and failure to introduce reforms will play a major factor in deciding if the present chief minister Sheila Dikshit will be brought back for a fourth term.
What is special about this year is the fervour with which voters have been pursued to vote. The Election Commission apart, a crucial role to encourage citizens to exercise their right to franchise was played by the media, especially the social media. Here’s what the vigilant national and international media had to say on the Delhi polls:
The Times of India exhorted citizens to vote in large numbers by arguing that it’s not a responsibility but an “empowering entertainment”. “Terms like ‘duty’ and ‘responsibility’, laudable as they are, have connotations of the wearisome burdens that the so-called aam aadmi must labour under in day-to-day life. The last thing that the aam aadmi wants to hear about is yet another duty, yet another chore that must be performed... Election time is an invitation to the populace to come and shake a leg. And while doing so, perhaps help to kick out – or kick in – a campaigning hopeful,” it said, adding a fun twist to the task that voting is considered.
India Today noted the increased enthusiasm to vote. “Historically, a high voter turnout has been associated with dissatisfaction with the existing government, an anti incumbency wave. But that theory no longer holds good. Punjab and Gujarat both saw high voter turnouts, but returned existing governments to power. In contrast, Himachal Pradesh recorded a 75 per cent vote, but the ruling party was voted out... If there is one story that high voter turnouts tell us, however, is that something changed in India with the Anna Hazare movement. He engaged the long-estranged middle class and enthused it into taking an interest in politics,” the magazine said, adding no party can take credit for the change that Anna movement brought about in increasing awareness in the voters.
The Indian Express said Delhi is only one of the five states electing a government, but it stands apart for the significant departures from the usual politics, adding this election will “test the substance” of the AAP which has “expertly created a buzz about its presence”.
The DNA took the focus to “the other and the neglected side”. “The capital’s estimated 150,000 homeless people are one category that even politicians don’t approach because they don’t have a vote”. Dubbed the “forgotten people - seen everywhere and yet not seen”, the homeless feel “politicians don’t care for them, because they are neither united nor have their voter I-cards to be of any use to political leaders as they count their support,” its report said, bringing the election awareness to the full circle.
Here’s the look at the keenness within the international media:
The Washington Post said, “the newest political party (AAP) could play spoiler in a fight between traditional rivals, the incumbent Congress Party and the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party”. “The AAP hopes to capitalise on the disillusionment with the two major political parties by offering what it claims will be an honest administration which takes the pressing problems of the city as its priority”, it said.
A New York Times blog followed the AAP’s journey in an article titled “Non-resident Indians Play Major Role in Aam Aadmi Party’s Delhi Campaign”. It traced people in America who are supporting AAP, saying, “Many of these overseas Indians are participating in a political campaign for the first time in their homeland, attracted by Aam Aadmi’s drive to clean up Indian politics.” It quoted Subhamoy Das, a resident of Texas, who has been making phone calls to voters in Delhi asking them to vote on December 4, as saying: “Since childhood, corruption has been a part of our life. You have to start living with it because if you don’t it will be hard to live. This party (AAP) is the only hope that I can see that can bring a welcome change. It might take a long time. Delhi is a very good place to start.”
The Dawn said, “Kejriwal, 44, is hoping his promise of clean politics, young candidates and pursuit of black marketers who he blames for soaring food prices, will resonate with voters. Support for his party fluctuates wildly according to recent polls, from an impressive six to eight seats in the 70-member assembly to an extraordinary 30 or more. In the general elections next year, the left-leaning Congress is predicted to struggle to win a third term in power, with Modi and the BJP making headway but without enough support to win a majority.”
The Reuters reflected on the “broken paving stones and exposed cables that mar the neo-Georgian grandeur of India’s prime shopping precinct”, i.e. the Connaught Place, to argue why Congress stands a tough chance. “The Games were supposed to be a statement of India’s arrival on the world stage. At the time its economy had deftly bounced back from the global financial crisis. Instead, project overruns, corruption and shoddy workmanship focused attention on India’s lingering problems” the website said, to point at how the shoddy work reflected the abysmal quality of governance.
Social media played its part in encouraging the voters. A Wall Street Journal blog noted “social media has become one of many platforms where possible prime ministerial candidates are being scrutinized”. It said that “Indian political parties have started wising up to the power of online campaigning. Ahead of state elections in Uttar Pradesh last year, for instance, parties including the winning Samajwadi Party, Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party turned to social media ranging from Facebook to YouTube as well as to blogs and smartphone apps to promote their candidates and their agenda” and this change can hugely impact the Delhi elections too.
This poll could be anybody’s game. But what characterizes it from the rest is the eagerness with which millions of young voters are displaying to vote. This can be credited to the role the media and social media played in making especially this point – you have the right to criticise and cuss but that is preceded with the right to vote.
The author is Chairman and Editor-in-Chief, exchange4media Group