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I saw the power of the common man while covering the India polls

Anjana Sankar
Filed on May 23, 2019 | Last updated on May 23, 2019 at 11.17 pm
I saw the power of the common man while covering the India polls

(Reuters)

The enormity and complexity of India as a nation is a bit intimidating, especially for someone who has lived outside of the country for nearly two decades.

It was with a mix of enthusiasm and apprehension that I took up the assignment to cover the marathon Lok Sabha elections in India.

The enormity and complexity of India as a nation is a bit intimidating, especially for someone who has lived outside of the country for nearly two decades.

After all, I am about to plunge into the most mind-boggling exercise of democracy - when more than 900-million strong electorate will go to vote in seven phases stretching more than a month.

Ten days. Four states. Thousands of kilometres on the road. Charged conversations.

Maddening crowds. Tight deadlines. It had to be exhilarating, exhausting, interesting, overwhelming and terrifying yet addictive.

"Keep a pepper spray with you. You are travelling alone to India." A concerned friend gave her piece of advice.

But I felt more compelled to quickly read through the safety instructions the CPJ (Committee to Protect Journalists) had put out for journos covering Indian elections 2019.

In the light of increasing harassment, abuse and even murder of journalists in India in recent times, the US-based non-profit organisation that stands to defend press freedom, had a list of dos and don'ts while covering political rallies, reporting on hostile crowd and dealing with online abuse, among others.

But what the CPJ had not said in its dossier - and what I figured out during my 10 days - was that when in India, your biggest safety net is people. The warmth and hospitality that Indians are capable of showering on absolute strangers on the street is possibly our biggest soft power.

The random housewife from Gujarat who offered me lunch; my rental car driver in Bhopal who invited me home; the sugarcane juice vendor in Mumbai who insisted that he will not take money from me; a female politician in Rajasthan who took me home with her because I was alone; the hotel receptionist who kept calling to ask whether my stomach is okay - aren't these people more romantic than the Bollywood matinee idols?

There is another thing that elections have taught me while I travelled across four states capturing the heat and passion of campaigning. There is no bigger leveler than elections. There is no better level-playing ground than democracy. What economists fail to do, politicians manage at least once in five years. When it is time to vote a new government to power, the gap between the rich and power shrinks. From the paanwala in the rural villages of Rajasthan who told me he is rooting for Congress to the diamond merchant of Mumbai's Dalal street who wants the BJP to come back to power, opinions matter. And people wear their political preferences on their sleeve - like a badge of identity.

The Indian politicians may be an elite, privileged and pampered lot. But to seek people's mandate, they come down from their glass towers. I was glad to see how they stepped out of their private choppers, rolled down the windows of their air-conditioned cars and reached out to people.

They did everything to become 'the people.' Personally, it was an empowering experience to watch the power resting on the common man's finger tip. The dance of democracy is indeed a unique spectacle where the real show stoppers are the 'aam aadmi. And as a journalist, my job was just to record and rate the performance before the final score card was out.

anjana@khaleejtimes.com


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