Sunday, October 31, 2010

Down, but not out

First-time Independents in the Cochin Corporation election learn some lessons from their loss

Photo: P.C. Cyriac

By Shevlin Sebastian

“My initial reaction, when I realised that I had lost, was one of disappointment,” says P.C. Cyriac. “I had hoped to win because the response had been positive on the part of the voters I met.”

But Cyriac, the Independent candidate for the Elamkulam division, and a former chief secretary of the Tamil Nadu government, discovered some unforeseen hurdles. “There was a massive manipulation of the voters’ list,” he says. “Several genuine people were omitted, while new names were added. Many of them were ineligible. You might ask why I did not keep an eye, but at that time I was not in the fray.”

Another problem was bogus voting. “Many people came into the polling both, and voted in the name of others,” he says. “When the genuine voters came, they discovered that their vote had already been cast. The problem was that the state government did not insist on showing identity cards. The instruction was that the cards should be checked only if there is any doubt. This opened the way for false voting.”

But Cyriac performed creditably. He got 1017 votes, while the winner Sojan Antony of the LDF got 1283 votes. The UDF candidate, A.V. Xavier, came third, with 566 votes. And it has been a learning experience for the retired bureaucrat.

“On the last day of the campaign there was a big drama by the rivals,” says Cyriac. They took out a procession with motorbikes and jeeps, and proclaimed the qualities of their candidate through a loudspeaker mounted on the roof of an auto-rickshaw.

“People like to see a show,” he says. “Some of them need a reassurance that you are going to win and their vote will not be wasted.” Cyriac realised that making house calls on voters was not enough.

He says that the result might have been different if he had taken up the offer of the UDF, in the form of T.M. Jacob of the Kerala Congress, who asked the bureaucrat to represent them. “But I did not want to stand for any party,” he says. “I wanted to be an Independent.”

Cyriac says he will continue to show his independence by pointing out the inadequacies in the civic amenities of the city through his newspaper, 'Kochi Vartha'.

A Gujarati debacle

Deepak Pujara, who claimed that he was the first Gujarati to stand for the Cochin Corporation elections in more than 50 years, was wiped out in the Cheralai division. While Shyamala Prabhu of the BJP, who won for the fifth consecutive time, received 2062 votes, Deepak got only 50. He had hoped that the 1400 strong Gujarati community would vote for him.

But on the day of the voting, Shyamala played a master stroke. “In the polling booth all the senior and well-known people in the Gujarati community stood with Shyamala, sending out a message that the Gujaratis should support her,” says Deepak.

But Gujarati businessman Kamlesh Khona gives another viewpoint. “Nobody knew about Deepak before he stood for the elections,” he says. “So how can people vote for him when they don’t know his capabilities?”

Meanwhile, looking back, Deepak says that the lack of planning was a drawback. “I filed the nomination papers at the last minute,” he says. The novice also realised the importance of money power. His rivals spent a lot more to put up posters, flex boards and banners all over the division, while Deepak’s expenses were only Rs 9000.

Like in Cyriac's case, Deepak was taken aback when Shyamala organised a procession of hundreds of people on the last day of campaigning. “That had a big impact on the voters,” he says. “Unfortunately, I did not know about these gimmicks.”

But he says that his main motive was to create a perception among the Gujaritis and the political parties that a person from the community should represent them in the Cochin Corporation, instead of a Konkani like Shyamala. “I think I have succeeded in creating that awareness,” he says.

Incidentally, the political bug has bitten Deepak. “In the next few months, before the Assembly elections I will be joining a political party,” he says.

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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