Covering electioneering of Sambit Patra
It may be elsewhere too, but becoming a politician in India is really tough. If politics as a career is one of the least preferred options in India, it is precisely because success in politics, particularly for those who do not belong to the already established political families, is not only a mixture of luck, money, hard work and talents but also the support of party leaders who protect one from his or her party rivals. In fact, growing up inside a political party in India is more challenging than even facing the electorate outside.
In fact, all these fundamental realities marking an India politician can be seen in Sambit Patra, the BJP spokesperson who is contesting from Puri Lok Sabha constituency in Odisha. For the last 36 hours I have been covering his election campaign as a journalist, in the process of which I have spoken to his campaign-colleagues and friends, common people (his voters) and local media personnel. Sambit does not belong to any political family. He is a medical doctor by training but chose politics as a career after gaining national recognition as the spokesperson of the ruling BJP at the centre, thanks to a considerable extent to the ever-invading Television news channels into the households in the country.
His undoubted, rather already proven, talents as a speaker, rather orator, is very much evident when he speaks in absolutely fluent Odia in public gatherings. In fact, as the candidate to the Parliament it is he who bears the principal responsibility of convincing people why they should not only vote for him but also for the MLA candidate to the state Assembly whose elections are also simultaneously being held in Odisha. And such are his flow and lucidity that his speeches cover everything, from the history of Puri and Odisha, to the significance of Puri in the cultural and spiritual lives of the state, to the cult of world famous Lord Jagannath, to the incompetence of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, to the “absence” of his principal rival Pinaki Mishra of the state’s ruling Biju Janata Dal both in Parliament and Puri constituency over the last 15 years(Mishra has been the MP over the last four terms, the first as a Congress candidate and the last three terms as the BJD candidate).
What struck me most in Sambit’s speeches is that he is combative but not unnecessarily negative. He does not tell voters that they should vote against Patnaik and Mishra, something we see in almost all our opposition leaders and parties these days who hardly say why people should vote for them, their only mantra being “Modi – hatao”. Sambit spends most of his time in saying why should people vote for him, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP. In fact, there are times when he campaigns more for Modi than himself, though in essence it means the same thing as Modi will remain the Prime Minister if people elect more like Sambit to reach the magic figure of 273 in the Lok Sabha(Lower House of Parliament), the prerequisite for becoming the country’s Prime Minister.
What about people’s response? People of India are so clever about their revealing their political preferences these days that it is difficult to predict how will they exercise their “secret” votes inside polling booths, but going by their public displays while responding to Sambit’s pleas, one can say that he has got their total approval. And what is more important, I saw (most of them being first time voters) and the young men in impressive numbers echoing him. I asked a score of young men in Ranpur why they were backing him. “The country needs Modi again at the centre, but the state needs a change. We are with phool (Lotus flower, the election-symbol of the BJP).” No wonder why such positive response from the ground is emboldening the Sambit-team, to work harder and harder. Sambit, I am told, is spending at least 20 hours every day in campaigning in various parts of his constituency. Many a time he dines and sleeps in the poor constituents’ homes. In fact, being a television celebrity as BJP’s premier national spokesperson, many news channels, both national and local, are seen covering his traditional Odia meals at the places of his voters, though I do not know for certain whether they are spontaneous or organised, given the fact that most of these voters are really poor.
Will Sambit win? Many friends from Delhi are telephoning me to find out. As I have mentioned, I have only covered his electioneering for one and half day. I must admit that he has got the public response. If that is the only indication that determines electoral victory, then I will say that Sambit is a sure winner. But then, as I mentioned at the outset, elections in India constitute a complex process because Indian politics itself is a complex phenomenon. Sambit may have most the criteria for being a successful politician – honesty, hard work and talents; but I am not sure whether he has the full backing of his party machinery in his constituency. Some of his team members confide that Sambit being a choice of the national leadership in a constituency, which, it was wildly rumoured till the eve of the initiation of the nomination process that Prime Minister Modi himself will contest from Puri, besides Varanasi, it is surprising that no national leader has come to address a single public meeting in the constituency. Besides, the state-leadership of the BJP, one is told, is not helping Sambit’s team either organizationally or financially that is expected from a national party, a party that is not only India’s largest but also richest. In fact, there are signs of chaos and confusion in the ranks and files in Sambit’s team because of their lack of comfortability with the state leadership. A journalist of a premier local daily told me that “Sambit’s real enemy is inside his own party. Outside, he appears to be way ahead of Pinaki Mishra, the incumbent MP belonging to the state’s ruling Biju Janata Dal”
By Prakash Nanda