Workers gripe that the money slum dwellers are getting from redevelopment has made their palate more discriminating, and costly; also, women voters can't be courted with just sarees, want accessories as well
There is a paradigm shift in the voter market. Bartering votes in city slums for locally made alcohol just won't do any more. For the dweller of the urban shanty, being courted by the corporate-types moving in to 'tap the bottom of the pyramid', has undergone a refinement of taste. He is demanding that netas ply him with a bottle of foreign liquor in exchange for his vote, and unsurprisingly, it is his for the asking.
Fancy wants: Party workers complain that the slum dwellers don't budge
unless you offer them branded vodkaor whisky. Representation pic
It's the redevelopment, netas who are footing the bill for his ballot -- escalated by three times this time -- complain.
"Earlier, we would dole out the alcohol available locally and no one would complain. But with the redevelopment money that slum dwellers get, their expectations from civic poll candidates have inflated. Earlier, they could be pleased with desi daru. Now, they do not budge unless you offer them branded vodka or whisky. Even if they can't spell the names, they ask for imported brands," said the campaign manager for a contestant.
"Where we paid Rs 500 for liquor for four people in the last elections, we are forced to pay at least Rs 1,500 this time."
Steeling a march
It's not just the men who have been "spoilt" with development, rue aides of politicians. Women, who were content with sarees, are asking for add-ons like accessories, bibelots and the works.
And utensils -- stainless steel, mind you -- are an absolute hit if one has to stay one-up on the rival candidate.
An associate of a candidate from central suburbs said, "Earlier a saree and Rs 500 in cash would suffice for one woman voter. This time, they want double the cash along with the saree. In many slums, we have had to add a box of bangles, along with a pack of bindis."
He added, "At certain places, the candidates are distributing stainless steel sets of cooking bowls, plates, spoons and other household items. We have to do that or else we will lose them"
'It is how it is'
A member of a political party opines that the slum dweller alone should not be held responsible.
"When one party offers desi daru, another has to offer imported liquor to outstrip competition. Ditto with sarees and utensils. In today's election, these actions should not be considered criminal. If that is how one appeases the real voters, so be it," said the person.
Asked why they are catering to the demands they do not approve of, a party worker was as liberal with candour as candidates are supposed to be with booze this election.
"We are desperate for votes. We are ready to fulfill their demands. If we don't do it someone else will, and that's whom the vote will go to," he said. Then, doing some quick chauvinistic math, added, "If the man of the house is happy after his demands are met, the whole family will come out in support."
According to political analysts, things have come a full circle. They say that politicians who are complaining of 'greedy voters' are like the proverbial kettle calling the pot black; and that's the state of the Indian democracy today.
Dr Jose George, professor, Civics and Politics, University of Mumbai, said, "Everyone knows that political parties have made a lot of money through scams and skullduggery. In order to get it back from the parties, slum dwellers and others are exploiting this political opportunity and are trying to get whatever they can out of the candidates."
He said that the justification furnished by some parties that they would lose the race if they do not hop aboard the bandwagon forms the vicious circle.
"Every political party wants to influence the voters. The apathetic middle class always has stayed away from politics, thinking it's sordid. So it is above the radar of political parties, who have chosen to focus on slum dwellers. After all, they are the ones who come out to vote in hordes. Sad as it is, the bribing and luring approach is the order of the day," said Jose.