Indians breathe Cricket, Bollywood and Politics, and since Bollywood and cricket enthrall me less, I derive my adrenaline rush from political discussions. And for a television journalist, especially a political reporter, reporting live from the field on Mother of all Elections – 2019 Lok Sabha elections – is a dream, a tad more than aspiration.
As a cub reporter, I had covered 2014 Lok Sabha Polls as well, which I saw as an election for the articulation of hopes of India. Then the Modi wave engulfed or immersed the voters. 5 years later as I have tried to metamorphose into a serious reporter (at least I would like to believe so) I see 2019 dominated by the Modi cult, caught between fans and fanatics on one side and dissenters on the other, with the former outnumbering the latter.
I must have traversed a thousand kilometres through the states of Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan in the last two months. The issues were diverse, the pulse erratic, but the essence was one- 2019 elections, it’s Prime Minister Modi vs all. BJP leaders on-camera and Opposition leaders off-camera accede to this narrative.
Another striking feature was that of the patriotic fervour after the Balakot strikes. In January, when political contenders came out with competing for income guarantee schemes, it seemed as if the 2019 elections might be fought on economic premise, but the suicide bombing in Pulwama, in which 40 paramilitary jawans were killed, and the subsequent Indian Air Force strike on Balakot, in Pakistan, altered the narrative. Suddenly I see a volley of questions and concerns on national security, by voters exasperated and rankled by the neighbouring terror-haven.
Meanwhile, Congress chief Rahul Gandhi’s Nyuntam Aay Yojana pledge is also reverberating amid voters. The party has started sending personalised letters from Congress President Rahul Gandhi to 12 million poor households, but as a reporter, I felt that the party needs to communicate details of the programme which it thinks could be a game changer. I decided to cover what the politicians say, and the importance and significance of the issues they are talking about. And it’s the responsibility of the journalist to question and examine; that’s where I covered the story of water scarcity in Karnataka, frothing lakes of Bengaluru, crop loan waiver in Rajasthan and MP and women’s issues.
However, there was a sharp contrast in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. And that’s where the diversity of this nation left me flummoxed. In these states, the battle was of regional passion, a passion that was riveting, compelling and if I may say- obsessive. The nationalism debate was eclipsed by the demand for Special Category Status in AP and by the Jai Telangana chants in Telangana. The regional Satraps – K Chandrashekhar Rao in Telangana, Chandra Babu Naidu, Jagan Reddy and Pawan Kalyan in AP rule the roost leaving little or no space for the two national parties.
Poll reportage has widened my perspective, helped me understand India better but on the hindside, or why even hindside let me accept this without qualms that it has offered gastronomical delight for food fanatics like me. The Hyderabadi Biryani to MP ki Sabudana Khichdi to Rajasthan ki bati.
There are perils too, the excruciating heat that has made me 1000000 shades darker, the maddening deadlines, the never-ending distances to be covered but nothing plummets the fun of election coverage well the description can go on endlessly but now I am gearing for Varanasi that will be the cynosure of all eyes in the days ahead.