Have the Election Commission and the Special Protection Group, between them, willy-nilly robbed the Indian election of its famed tamasha value and reduced it to an antiseptic exercise?
Search my brain as I might, I could think of no other discernible reason for Congress president Sonia Gandhi's flat Election 2009 kickoff rally at Davangere -- a venue, commentators insist on pointing out, where she launched her party's campaign in 1999, the year when the A B Vajpayee mini-wave, in the aftermath of the Kargil war, ensured hers and her party's campaign didn't amount to much.
I was not at hand 10 years ago, so I have no way of comparing notes about Sonia 1999 and 2009. If what I saw on Monday is the confident, assured Sonia Gandhi of today, then the one 10 years ago must have been of interest only to the election-beat journo, and could have been a factor why her party was trounced.
So will Sonia 2009 @ Davangere do better for her party and the shaken and stirred United Progressive Alliance? I wish I knew the outcome, but the 2004 verdict, however unforeseen, should put an end to political punditry and the hack's so-called finger on the pulse prognosis (including mine).
Instead of playing the pundit, sitting in the Bapuji MBA grounds pandal on Monday I tried to put myself in the voter's shoes and see if Sonia Gandhi's verbal exercise would appeal to me. Ms Gandhi flew in a chopper at 1.15 pm and 60 minutes later flew out. The closest she came to the crowds was 50 feet, the media being the beneficiary. For the rest she was a distant figure; the SPG drill rules out mingling with the crowds and other popular moves.
But a caveat before I go further. Her appearance did appeal to the more than one-lakh captive crowd brought from across Karnataka by the over-zealous Congress outfits. They were, going by the ones we spoke to, all Congress members and naturally voters whose franchise is a foregone conclusion. In 2004 their combined tally didn't help the Congress much; Davangere plumbed for the Bharatiya Janata Party's G M Siddeswara then, and the state itself turned saffron last year.
For the Congress workers brought by their truckloads on Monday, Sonia Gandhi's appearance could at best be a bonus, maybe an incentive to work harder to ensure the Congress's victory. Will it translate into any concrete outcome, like greater vote-share at the grassroots level, we will know on May 16.
Image: Congress president Sonia Gandhi with party general secretary in charge of Karnataka Ghulam Nabi Azad.
Text: Saisuresh Sivaswamy in Davangere | Photographs: KPN Photos
Davangere wakes up to poll fervour