Hired supporters ‘volunteer’ for candidates

Election reporting is an interesting area. One gets to see the real faces of candidates and their followers, besides coming across a bunch of funny experiences. Here’s a collection of such experiences from the Citizen Matters team.It was about 6.30 in the evening. Around 40 people were going around shouting slogans for Shobha Karandlaje, in Rajaji Nagar. She would reach there in another half an hour.

Except a handful of middle-aged men leading the pack, no other supporters seemed as loud or dramatic as supporters usually are. About half of them were women. The men seemed young and sophisticated, some with funky hair-dos. For about 20 minutes, a KJP office-bearer in Rajaji Nagar tried to convince me that KJP had overwhelming support there, and most BJP workers had moved to KJP now.

We talked to a ‘supporter’, only to find that he was a 3rd year student in an engineering college nearby and had come to make some quick buck. We also learnt that most of the other boys were from the same or nearby colleges. He said that except one or two, the women in the campaign had also been ‘hired’. The rate was fixed at Rs 500 per day, for campaigning for 2-3 hours.

Another said that he had just finished college, but had been unable to find a job. "I have not been paid yet, I hope I get paid today," he said. When we asked if he had any link to KJP, he said, "Well, this is just volunteer work, and they pay me. It is not about the party!"

Once Shobha reached, there were quick greetings with the senior leaders. As she moved swiftly from one shop to the next, the ‘supporters’ tagged along sluggishly, cracking jokes and gossiping, not forgetting to shout slogans and give away pamphlets in between.

*****

‘Supporters’ unaware of whom to support!

In Padmanabha Nagar last month, there was a strange case of hired ‘supporters’ not knowing whom they were supporting. Three candidates – Minister Ashoka, a KJP candidate and an independent – were all submitting their nominations the same day.

There were mediapersons waiting for Ashoka. The KJP candidate’s supporters were inviting every mediaperson they could find, for an interview with him.

But the independent candidate had the highest number of ‘supporters’. Some 150 people – majority of them women and children – sat on the road nearby, blocking vehicles. If a car honked too much, they would give way slowly after making it wait for a while. A man walked around, giving directions to the women to not move from the road.

When we asked the women whom they were waiting for – one said Ashoka, that he was meeting them to hear their grievances. A second woman said that they were waiting for the KJP candidate. And a third said that she didn’t know. In between, someone was shouting to a woman, asking her to remember the money she had taken, and to not leave.

The crowd waited for an hour. They were as surprised as the onlookers were, when an independent candidate went to them, accompanied by slogan-shouting and pamphlet-distributing men. There was no meeting, and within couple of minutes, everyone had happily dispersed.

*****

A tradition finds new meaning…

One of the odd things during MLA N A Haris’s campaign is that many women do aarti for him. When we followed the campaign one day for interviewing Haris, he would be stopped every few houses for an aarti.

After the aarti, an associate would slowly slip a few notes into the aarti plate. The usual traditional practice is to put a coin or some token money in the plate, but in this case, it was a small bunch of ten rupee notes. This may or may not be a way of canvassing votes.

A supporter, who claimed to be a former Congress office-bearer, said that candidates campaign in all areas, but that votes can be influenced only in poor neighbourhoods. "In other areas, people do not get affected by the campaign, but here they do. You know the reason – money," he said.

Throughout the campaign, Haris’s supporters would give him live commentary about every house in the neighbourhood – who were the people he had to meet, who were already supporters of Congress, and who had to be converted. Haris was also seen giving god-fatherly reassurances like ‘No one will bother you,’ to a voter.

*****

‘Don’t force me to be corrupt!’

In one of the newer apartment complexes in one part of Bangalore, an incumbent MLA was campaigning. The residents had just two key demands – to solve the water problem and to help them get Khatas. The MLA claimed that a new World Bank-funded project will get water in two years.

When residents asked him, what to do till then, he didn’t have an answer. He only said: please vote for me, if you educated people don’t vote, I will be forced to go to the slums; They will ask me for money — so don’t force me to be corrupt.

Perhaps he was joking, perhaps he was not.

*****

‘That’s a good business!’

Ashwath Narayan’s campaign team has been very active on Facebook and Google ads during the elections, with sponsored pages and paid ads. Their effort to reach out to the online crowd has been very much visible.

At the end of the interview for MLA-SPEAK series, Ashwath Narayan was asking about the readership of Citizen Matters. When we explained him that it was a website that reaches over one lakh readers per month, he was astonished. Looking at his media co-ordinator, he remarked: "Idu olle business, alvaa?" (That’s a good business, isn’t it?)

We are still not sure what he meant.

****

Serving people with other people’s money!

There was this candidate Mr Manjunath from Mahadevpura. As we wanted to know his profile, we looked up online and found nothing. So we called up him. He said he was a police constable once, now retired.

When asked why does he think he is fit to become a people’s representative, he said he helps elderly women and other people a lot. Well, what is his profession? "Social service."

Okay, so what is his budget for the campaign this time? "It is not much – just 2-3 lakhs, madam. We are not very well-off, you know! My friends and relatives help me with money." Oh is it? "Okay, so what do you do for living?"

"My friends and relatives help me with money for my living and requirements, as I said earlier. Social service, my profession, doesn’t pay much you know."

So here’s a man who makes his living, serves people and contests elections with other people’s money – a requirement for being a politician?

We stopped probing, winded up the conversation and disconnected the call.

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