18. The Heat of Election

I am very passionate about learning anything new in the realm of education. Whenever I get an opportunity to know and understand any good initiative in the education sector, I grab it immediately.  In adherence to this practice, I visited Hyderabad in the month of January accompanied by Kamalnayan and Govindji. We have gone there to see the effectiveness of the Triple L method by which children are being taught Language, Logic, and Life Skills. This method has been developed by an organization called Akshar Vanam under the able leadership of Shripat Reddy and Madhav Reddy.

After understanding the concept of the Triple L method, we returned to the village on 8th February. It was our earnest desire to test some elements of the triple L method in the study centers of Tirhutipur. Within a few days of our arrival from Hyderabad, we realized that heat is increasing in the environment. There were two sources of this heat, one was sun and the other was forthcoming Panchayat Elections of UP. In accordance with the prevailing traditions, all potential candidates were contributing their bit to increase this temperature.

I had no interest in village politics, so regardless of this changing environment, I continued my work. But soon I was going to learn that it is not so easy to escape the flames of electoral politics. Of the many candidates who were in the fray, two were very close to me. I didn’t want to campaign in favor of anyone, so I distanced myself from the entire election process. To save me from the electioneering, I went out of the village on 27th February. 

Apart from keeping my distance from the electoral quagmire, there were few other things that also inspired me to spend some days out of the village. One such thing happened on 17th February when the Vice-Chancellor of the Jharkhand University of Technology, Shri Pradeep Mishra, appointed me as the advisor of the University. He expected me to help him in planning the social activities of the University. While discharging this role, I along with other functionaries, organized a tribal and village development Meet in Ranchi from 22nd to 23rd March. In this Meet, I got new ideas, new information, and many new friends. I also got the opportunity to revive my relations with many old friends and seniors. All of this was going to help me in the endeavors of Mission Tirhutipur.

 

Of course, I stayed out of the village for a month and a half, but my contact with the village remained constant. I was getting regular updates on my Study Centres and electioneering. I was informed that despite our best effort to stay away from the election, some people are not sparing us from the many false accusations. We were educating hundreds of children in the village without taking any fees. Sadly, this fact was being used as evidence of our hidden electoral motives. 

When the smear campaign intensified against Mission Tirhutipur, we lowered our guard on our neutrality. Gradually, we began to give signals in favor of the candidate who was openly supporting the Mission. Till the end, I didn’t ask anybody to vote in favor of my candidate, but that didn’t make much difference. My preference was known to everybody. Whatever social capital that Mission Tirhutipur had earned in the last 5 months, we were forced to invest it in rural politics.

Those who consider elections and democratic systems to be the solution to every problem, they should watch the Panchayat elections closely. They will be shocked to know that Panchayat elections have a huge role in spoiling the brotherhood and friendly environment of the villages. The bitterness that spreads during elections, becomes almost permanent in nature. Where people are a little intelligent, there is no physical fight, but there will hardly be any village where the fabric of social harmony is not damaged. It is unfortunate that the bitterness spreads not only among the individuals but also among the families and all other units of society.

Whether the election is of MP-MLA or Panchayat, the nature of problems is the same everywhere. However, at Panchayat level, the perversion is more intense. In spite of all their demerits, the elections of Parliament and State Assemblies are not completely devoid of the issues of social importance. But there is no such thing in Panchayat elections. It is rare when voting is done on the basis of a candidate’s merit and his commitment to the welfare of the village. To be honest, in most villages, the practice of casting votes on the basis of petty interests and prejudices has become a norm. Winning elections with the help of money, liquor, tricks, and caste calculations have now become a common practice even in the villages.

All the problems of Panchayat elections have come from top to bottom. Instead of decreasing, the intensity of such problems increases manyfold in the village environment. However, there is still one aspect where the village elections are different from the elections of Parliament and State Assemblies. This aspect is related to the participation of the Political Parties. Even today, the role of Parties in Panchayat elections is almost zero. This in itself is a problem as well as the solution to some core problems. For those who think of an alternative political system, village politics may prove to be very fertile, provided it is navigated with the help of new tools and new fighters.

In two months I understood many threads of rural politics. But for the time being my focus was somewhere else. On the evening of 19th April, when the polling was over and the ballot boxes were sealed and sent outside the village, I breathed a sigh of relief. I was happy that despite the tension and bitterness, there was no incident of physical violence in the village. Sometimes hot exchange of words took place, but that never went out of control. My worries were over. Election results had no bearing on me. Victory or defeat of any candidate was not going to make much difference to the work of the Mission. So, as soon as the elections were over, my attention shifted again to the pending works of the Mission Tirhutipur.

19th April proved to be a very good day for me. On the one hand, it marked the end of the troublesome village elections, on the other hand, it indicated pleasant prospects for Mission Tirhutipur. In fact, Harshvardhan, one of our finest volunteers, had returned to the village on the same day after being out for three months. His triennial examination in IISER was over. Due to Corona, it was most likely that subsequent classes were to be held online. So he was going to stay with us for a long duration. Everything was looking good. However, we failed to anticipate the hard impact of the second wave of the corona that was hovering above our head on 19th April.

That’s all in this diary. Goodbye.

Vimal Kumar Singh

Convener, Mission Tirhutipur

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