Karnataka voters have ousted twiddledee only to bring back twiddledum. So wrote Dr Bhamy Shenoy in 1995. He could as well write the same stuff in May next, after the 2009 elections. Our voters do not care who wins and often do not even know whom they are voting for. So says Dr Shenoy, who contested the 1995 Karnataka assembly election as an Independent. And lost by a huge margin.
He reckoned that our voters are easily swayed, even those whom we expect would take informed decisions. A retired Karnataka Administrative Services (KAS) official, who had promised his vote to Shenoy, changed his mind on way to the polling booth. Because someone supporting a rival candidate came up to him and handed over his voter registration slip. The official had in his government day held responsible positions that entailed taking decisions.
Losing elections, twice in a row,I suppose, makes Dr Shenoy an electoral veteren. Referring to the last time he lost, 1994, the IIT educated Mysorean said his assembly constituency, with a fair chunk of well-to-do residents, had eight slum areas, where votes were controlled by petty landlords, usually small time politicians. Our candidate had reckoned on neutralising the slum area vote, by appealing to the educated middle-class to 1) stop staying away from the polling booth; and 2) think before voting.
Dr Shenoy first contested in 1989, when he polled 550 votes. His strategy to draw middle-class votes fetched him 2260 votes in 1994. The strategy worked, but the candidate lost. His years between elections – 1989-94 – were spent on proactive social activism and networking retired professionals and officials to help him mobilise public opinion.
With their support Dr Shenoy reached out individually to 70,000 people and visited 30,000 households, spending time at each place discussing issues of common concern. “If only half of those we met had kept their word, I would have easily won,” says Dr Shenoy.
On reflection he felt many who promised Shenoy their vote had, presumably, associated his name with BJP. The middle-class everywhere has a segment of party-committed voters, who went by the party symbol, rather than a condidate’s merit. So much for the power of informed voting. Dr Shenoy’s home-visits and his efforts to educate them on democratic maturity simply fell on deaf ears.
Another discovery he made was that, like parties and their parties , voters too have an ‘unspoken agenda’. Sharing his thoughts in the media, Dr Shenoy wrote in 1995:
A shopkeeper was frank enough to admit that if we really root out corruption he would not be able to earn his living!…many of us may talk against the present corrupt system. But we have learnt the art of managing the system….Traders ans business class may agitate for unification of taxes and show their protest against the political system that brings in irrational rules and regulations. But in the final analysis, they prefer a system where they can bribe and manage rather than the one where the rule of law prevails.
Dr Shenoy can be reached at email@example.com