Voting on a long weekend


The year was 2009 and the month was October. The date for GHMC elections was just announced.  The other parties began the race to identify the candidates, LokSatta was no exception.

Except it was seeking resumes from potential candidates and sort of going through a formal interview process.  Never heard of this before, and was a good enough reason for me to get excited about it. Didn’t feel like squandering this opportunity any further and I wanted to jump right into the action. To understand & learn the whole election campaigning process. I wanted to know

  • How the candidates are selected ?
  • What are their qualifications ?
  • How is the election manifesto formed ?
  • How is the campaigning done ?
  • what happens on the election day ?
  • etc, etc

Of course, I knew I wouldn’t get answers to all of them, but I knew I had to start somewhere. I was in touch with the then party representative for the Defence Colony constituency to find out who the candidate was, as that was the starting point. After a couple of rounds of phone calls with the contestant, who btw was very enthusiastic and energetic and was already well know for her social activism in the area.

The Team

I needed a team as it was no one person’s job to work on this, but luckily my partner in crime was none other than my wife :-). So it all started at home.  More people joined us once we started off the phone campaign. We quickly narrowed down on the following campaign aspects, it was almost as if one of us was contesting and thinking what should we do to put ourselves on the radar. And below were some of the answers

Calling the voters: 4 reasons for calling the voters

  • to let them know about the GHMC elections ( most of them don’t know about these elections )
  • to encourage them to register so they can vote
  • introduce loksatta as a formidable alternative
  • Nov 23rd 2009 was a holiday on which the elections were supposed to be held. It’s a long weekend and the general tendency is why waste the holiday on casting a vote.

We obtained the list of voters from the party head office or the same information can also be obtained from http://hardoi.nic.in/about_hardoi/about_main.htm.

A standard template was created to help assist the callers in case they needed a jump start.

Broadcast Automated call: at a cost of Rs2.25  per phone call. A recorded voice message ( My wife recorded this in Telugu asking people to vote for the whistle symbol ) and we emailed the mp3 file to a friend who helped with broad casting the calls. The messages were played to

  • 1500 landline numbers
  • 3257 mobile numbers

Public Announcements: The same audio recording was then used in their road campaign using a loud speaker.

Helped with the manifesto: contacted the LSP and got a sample manifesto based on which the manifesto for the constituency was also prepared

Increase the ground network: Made an effort to bring together the colony presidents and secretaries so as to discuss the pressing needs of the constituency, so that they can be addressed as part of the election manifesto.

There were a few other proposals but were never implemented because of lack of time

RTI workshop:

  • a community hall in the near by colony was chosen as the venue
  • RTI expert were contacted to fix the appointment
  • started to rally people but had to drop off mid way

Track the development of the constituency : RTI to track the development of the constituency in the past 10 years: this was supposed to help focus our efforts more than highlighting the opposition parties short comings. The idea was to share this with the press.

I had done some previous analysis ( click here )

Write to the press or media for coverage

So what did difference we made ?

It never occurred to me that I should blog about this experience that I had way back in 2009. Luckily I had all my emails to refresh my memory. This is just a small effort to prove that in this day and age of technology distance doesn’t mean anything. No matter where we are, we are always connected by the one common thread, I’m an Indian. And once that is established, if one wants to make a difference, one can make a difference.

With the combined efforts of the ground team ably led by the contestant Surya Chowdary ( thanks for giving us the opportunity ) and the team in the US, below excerpt from a Times Of India article sums up everything

“In Defence colony, where repoll was conducted, Congress candidate Iype Mariamma won by 341 votes over TDP candidate Babitha Madhav Yadav. Here again, it was Lok Satta candidate Surya Chowdary who ruined TDP’s chances by polling 2198 votes.

Click Here for the Times of India Article

Lessons learnt: While this was a very humbling experience for all of us, it also taught us some very important lessons.

1) Defence Colony was a predominantly an urban population but despite that the voter turn out was only 37%. Out of a total of 51,000 voting population only 19000 casted their votes

    • Lack of awareness i.e. most of them didn’t know it was GHMC elections
    • timing of the elections, happened to be on a holiday
    • voting is not as important as we all think it is
  • Lesson learnt : Voter education is very important. Irrespective of which party they vote for, there should be efforts put in to encourage them to coming to the polling booths

2) Short notice for elections: Both the ground teams and the virtual teams had just a month’s time of preparation, which is not enough especially when one is dealing with contestants who are not afraid to pump money into the campaign

3) election commission guidelines: Demand a strong enforcement of election commission guidelines. for GHMC elections, the EC had restricted the campaign spending to be 2 lakh rupees. It was very much evident during the campaign that the other contestants had easily spent crores of money.

4) personnel @ polling booths: We didn’t have enough volunteers at the polling booths directing people. There was a polling booth where recounting had to be done because of some rigging allegations. We need to bolster the support at the polling booths

5) Plan activities to create awareness among the women. Primarily the women.

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