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A week is a long time in Indian politics

A candidate is attacked twice, a stubborn politician almost cancels polls in her state and a tell-all book is released.
Last modified: 14 Apr 2014 12:31
AJE correspondent Sohail Rahman (centre) and team in Dantewada, Chhattisgarh

See our full coverage of the India elections here.

"A week is a long time in politics."

Whoever came up with that phrase wasn’t wrong when it comes to elections in South Asia and the first week of voting in India's election has been packed with drama.

The current election is the fifth general election I have covered in the region and I have to say this one is particularly bitter. It’s getting personal and though leaders refute allegations they would dare to insult each other, their disdain is there for everyone to see.

As usual, whether its their opinion on public safety, corruption, investment or security no one really talks about what they hope to achieve should they come to power. This debate is more about shifting blame.

The bitterness on the national campaign trail was highlighted when the leader of the Aam Admi or Common Man's party, Arvind Kejriwal, was physically attacked twice in four days. Kejriwal was punched by a 19-year-old youth in Delhi's Dakshinpuri area on Friday, then on Tuesday he was slapped by a rickshaw driver as he campaigned in an open-top jeep in the state of Gujarat. The driver, Lali, was later beaten by the party's supporters but apologised to the leader the next day over a cup of tea.

Kejriwal has earlier had ink, oil and an egg hurled at him in Uttar Pradesh. He blames his political rivals and not individuals for planning the attacks.

Meanwhile, Mamata Banerjee, the West Bengal chief minister and leader of Trinamool Congress Party, almost caused the cancellation of the polls in her state when she refused to make changes over appointments to civil service departments, as per Election Commission rules. Banerjee wasn’t going to be dictated to. However, the former coalition partner in the second UPA government led by Congress eventually had to comply or break laws denying constitutional procedure. Even she is not above the law and she knows it.

Fast forward to Saturday and the ruling Congress party was in the doldrums. Regardless of how much Congress keeps telling the Indian public that Narendra Modhi is bad for the country and how the party has helped millions - especially in the areas of food security and education - more bad news seems to be always around the corner.

This week it came in the release of a tell-all book, The Accidental Prime Minister, by Sanjaya Baru, a former advisor to the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The book confirms what many here already believe: that Sonia Gahdhi was the real power behind the PM’s office and she decided what policies and people were promoted. The publication also talks of strained working relationships within the cabinet and how the former finance minister, Pranab Mukherjee, wouldn’t even allow the PM to see a draft of the budget speech until it was finished.

All of this has happened in week one of a five-week election. I’ve been trying to catch my breath and take all of this real-time political soap opera in.

But soon enough, it was all put into context for me. I met an elderly woman who was voting in the capital close to where I live.  She dropped her voting slip and I picked it up for her.

She thanked me and said in Punjabi, "I don’t know why I bother voting ... I want to hang these politicians up by their testicles and slap them silly."

She looked at me with a wry smile. "Are you a politician?" 

"No," I replied. "I’m a TV reporter."

She frowned. "That’s nearly as bad."

Needless to say I left with a hurried farewell and all my bodily parts intact. I will leave the media's relationship with the public for another day.