Indian Elections 2019: Poll-Wisdom of Village Voters

Aggressive campaigning and heat wave has already hit most part of India but this could not dampen the spirit of voters

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Jaipur, India – An 85 year old village woman asks a development officer Rameshwar to help her activate internet on her mobile. Surprised at her enthusiasm he asks what would she do with that, and she instantly replies, I want to hear Modi. Rameshwar says with Jio mobile in reach of all, even older generation is excited about developments in the country and have strong desire to keep abreast with what their leaders are speaking. And when its election times, rural voters of all age are more inclined to exercise their democratic right and express their choices.

There remains three more phases of elections out of total seven, and in recent fourth phase 72 seats of nine Indian states have exhibited extreme enthusiasm with states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand breaking their previous poll record and only Jammu & Kashmir showing dismal nine percent and Odisha little low (60 percent) compared to previous (75 percent). Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are also up by few points, though more constituencies to go to poll here too and final round will only clear the entire picture.

So far 24 states and union territories have finished voting for 373 out of 543 Lok Sabha (lower house) seats. Election commission of India has done more robust arrangements and innovations like making google maps and all details of the booth, process of voting and cautions etc. available to voters, special arrangement for people with disabilities and ‘Sakhi’ booths for women voters, managed by women only are also highlighted for participation of all.

Aggressive campaigning and heat wave has already hit most part of India but this could not dampen the spirit of voters, although West Bengal was nearly on fire with incidences of clashes and bizarre cases like the one when an actress turned politician Moonmoon Sen says she was served bed tea late hence unaware of disruptions at the booth of her constituency. In spite, West Bengal has seen highest poll turnout of 77 percent while Maharashtra, where BJP and Shiv Sena have allied, has done better in decimals with 55.9 percent polling.

High voltage poll speeches this time are around national security, nationalism, central schemes that have benefited people and countering each other’s claim on development and employment records. BJP has Prime Minister Modi as a tall figure touching every chord of Indian voters on issues included in their manifesto and beyond, on the other side the Congress party has its President Rahul Gandhi promising universal basic income, increase in work days from 100 to 150 in Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGA) and scrapping of sedition law and Triple Talaq etc. His sister Priyanka Vadra is also canvassing vigorously and infusing all energy into the party to the best of her capacity.

In villages, all they want it a better life for their children with wider opportunities and affordable facilities. People feel empowered with their own bank accounts (34 crore ie 340 million new accounts opened), direct cash transfer through multiple schemes and provisions, 1.25 crore (12.5 million) rural affordable homes, PM Matri Vandana Yojana with its reach to 500 thousand mothers and child and Poshan abhiyan ensuring nutritional needs of children. Water and Electricity are also big concerns in many parts.

Dulha ji, a middle aged villager who never had electricity, television or mobile, is now using solar panel to light two bulbs and has electricity pole installed just outside his hut hoping to see his village brightening up sooner. He praises Modi government unequivocally for doing good work and clearly says that that other two members of his family will cast their vote as per their choice, I will not influence them. Such respect for democracy is heartening to hear from aging population.

Nirma, a health worker in a village of Western India shares that there are ample schemes and wherever there are interventions through grassroots networks it benefits people more. But her experience says that schemes like ‘Antara’ injectable as a measure of contraception could have more acceptability if medical staff and doctors are sensitized more. They discourage rural women by blowing little failures out of proportion and create distrust for government schemes, not realizing that family control impacts overall health of mother and child, create choices, delays early pregnancies, keep children in schools and pave way for economic well-being of the family in long run.

A principal of a rural government school for girls also expresses that village people are keen on enjoying the schemes like “Udaan” meant to reduce school drop-out rates especially of Girl child, but there is not enough work force to handle the intricacies of this all. Paper work has not reduced despite digitization of all processes of applications. Delivery gaps can only be filled with efficient, motivated machinery, adds she. Since, all government schools are election booths also, all arrangements there are in place and children enjoy holiday little before the poll day.

Watercrisis Shipra 1 web

Just before reaching the school, I stopped by a crowd queued up around water tanker. They were all upset about political representative not caring for water crisis and have decided not to vote for any candidate this time. They don’t foresee immediate solution to their plight and spend 3-4 hours every alternate day to fetch water, some children also miss their schools to help their parents with this.

Moving on the journey, I found Kailashi, a grassroots worker in a village encouraging the village women to opt for institutional deliveries to ensure their entitlement for government schemes for nutrition, education and health support. A mother of two children, she has appeared in tenth grade exam and plans to pursue her education till graduation. Kailashi and Nirma represent awakened rural women, who step out of boundaries of homes, empower fellow women to enjoy government programs, use mobiles and are confident enough to pursue higher education for better career opportunities. They are all excited about elections and say that women are more aware about their rights.

It was interesting to observe that hundreds of villagers I met past months recognize national leaders by name and face but not necessarily the constituency candidates or their elected representatives. It is surprising still that they have information and wisdom both to decide who should lead the nation and exercise their vote quite independently. Their increasing participation in biggest festival of democracy is indicative of how they are expressing themselves, hopefully to give a clear mandate for a strong national government.

Dr Shipra Mathur
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Dr Shipra Mathur is the Consulting Editor.

Academic Background: PhD (Journalism), First candidate in Rajasthan to clear UGC - NET in Journalism year 1997, MJMC (Gold Medal), BJMC - President University Dept Student Union, MA (English Lit), BSc (Bio) – Vice President College Student Union, Diploma (Violin)

Fellowships/Scholarships: IVLP (3 weeks International Visitor’s Leadership Programme invite, US State Department, 2017); Media Strategies for Social Change (3 weeks programme invite Israel Agency for International Development Cooperation – MASHAV, 2013); Sacred Groves (2 year fellow Ministry of Cultural Affairs, 2010)

Action Campaign Editor (National): A unique designation which she chose for herself with role in decision making and breaking glass ceiling. With 20 years in Journalism (half in academia half in active journalism), she is now leading innovative - collaborative solution driven Journalism. Her key role is to plan News Campaigns, innovate for new approaches, take up issues; build linkages for Action and Impact. She has always followed unbeaten track with beginning phase as reporter then founding media departments in university affiliate colleges, later taking crucial role for launching evening newspaper, founding journalist training division of a media house, and now in her most crucial role since 2009 as founder of a division called Media Action Group (MAG) ( in the newspaper group embedded into core editorial. Her focus remains voiceless people, inspirational work, collaborative approach and people engagement to lead with passion and compassion. She has also been reaching out to grassroots people through speeches and her media programmes/platforms to help each of them become Changemaker. She is recipient of Women Icon Award – 2015 and recently Sriphal Award – 2016 for Public Service Journalism and Innovation Award - NIF, 2014. On the board of Amity University (JMC School), SWARAJ grassroots organization and many more.

Consulting Editor: India America Today

TV Show (Weekly) conceptualized, named and presented by her #SOULgers for Patrika Rajasthan TV. This is with a purpose to cover work and philosophy of people who listen to their soul, walk on unbeaten path and work like a soldier.

As resource person had opportunity to share experiences on invitation of FICCI, CII, UN Women, UNFPA, UNICEF, IIM-A, RMP, ISKON, Artha, Skoll, CSO/VO consultations/ trainings, UNESCO, PLAN International, Govt of India platforms, Print Media Houses (esp Regional Language newspapers) and other discussion forum to propagate the idea of Public Service Journalism and to share about Empathy, Importance of Meaningful Work, Public Education, Collaboration and Change.

She founded PEN media foundation to build dialogue for better ways of People’s Engagement with News world. She is also Founder Secretary deeply involved with a cause to support Disabled (amputee animals) by installing Prosthetic (Artificial Limb – KRISHNA Limb) as service (non - profit).

Area of Work She has done major work for the benefit of the underprivileged, voiceless, marginalized or deprived community. Her major achievements have been in the areas of Right to Education; Democracy Drives during assembly and general elections (won National Media Award by President of India); Civic Engagement for Expression of Development ideas and Initiatives; Street Vendor Policy; Camel Trafficking, Gender Issues including female foeticide (won Gender Media awards for Teams at different editions), Sex Selection (she represented her state before Prime Minister of India’s dialogue with Women Sarpanch (8th March 2017 showcasing remarkable improvement in sex ratio), Child Marriage, Female Voices; Inclusion, Empathy and Accessibility for People with Disability, Environment Conservation; Awareness and Access to Ayurveda; Hindu Refugees (Religious Persecution) and Govt Schools among others. Govt School and Gender campaign (engaging more than 200 civil society groups) is closest to her heart with huge impact – policies, mind sets and practices. All these issues have been taken in campaign mode with critical engagement of all the stakeholders. It was always an ecosystem which operated underneath with experts, development sector, social workers, social jurists, active citizens and sometime the actual sufferers or beneficiaries also, which added desired direction and force to all what she undertook. She always took driver’s seat and designed ways, decided nomenclature, planned steps, facilitated engagements, offered slant and edited stories and fanned public movement keeping her teams in the fore front. Now writes only when it boils within and if it at all supports the cause, else invisible force is what she prefers to remain as.

In past 2 years she has built a dialogue forum called KEYNOTE Idea Fest for Patrika mentoring and curating it for different editions and suggesting/inviting people who have worked with profound sense of commitment and who inspire with their work or thoughts.

Impact Campaigns (her brain child) in past years: Neenv, Ahsaas, Laado, Tabran ro Byaav, Bitiya Bachao, Vision – 2025, Vajood, Bitiya Padhao, Vanshalika Betiyan, Aao Padhayen Sabko Badhayen, Feri Walon par Fanda, Doob Raha Jahaaz, Ayushmaan, Live Park, Gamechangers

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