Jyotsna ji’s vote

Published: April 10, 2014
The writer is a journalist with Scroll.in in Delhi. He is a Multani from Lucknow, who finds himself trapped in the Republic of South Delhi. He tweets @DilliDurAst

The writer is a journalist with Scroll.in in Delhi. He is a Multani from Lucknow, who finds himself trapped in the Republic of South Delhi. He tweets @DilliDurAst

Jyotsna ji has been my house help since 2006. She hails from a village East Midnapore district in West Bengal. She has lived in Delhi for about 22 years now. She separated from her husband and raised her two sons by herself.

I never asked her about politics until the day she returned from her annual trip to her village, some years ago. After 37 years of communist rule, West Bengal had a new government, led by Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress. The communists had been popular in West Bengal because they had done some half-baked land reforms and the rural poor loved them for it. The rest they managed by violence and rigging. Now the communists had tried to copy China and industrialise in a hurry, throwing the poor out of their land, using police, rape, murder and arson. The people voted with their feet. I wanted to know what Jyotsna ji thought of this change.

“See,” she said, “The people in the village are fools. I told them as much. As you know I don’t mince words.” She sounded patronising like Indian expats used to, about the country they had left. “I asked them if they had extracted any promises out of Trinamool or just shifted to with the wind? They had no answer. I told them I’ve lived in Delhi for 20 years! And in our jhuggi (slum) we’ve always voted Congress but only after extracting specific promises out of them. Nothing can happen to people in the village. Even the communists and the Maobaadis (Maoists) fool them”.

Then her sons grew up and she moved left the slum, moving into a rented house. The sons got jobs and one of them recently got married. Some months ago I asked her whom she was voting for in the Delhi assembly elections. Abki baar jhaadu! she said with surprising enthusiasm as she cleaned the floor with a broom, convincing me that the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) with the broom as its election symbol was going to do well. What about your sons? “They are they ones who persuaded me it was time to move on from the useless Congress”.

Arvind Kejriwal became chief minister of Delhi with support from the Congress. But he could either run Delhi or prepare for the Lok Sabha elections. He tried his best to make the Congress withdraw support but the Congress did not. So he tried to pass a law that the Delhi assembly could not have passed, complaining that the Congress didn’t let him pass the law. He resigned. The gimmick has been so obvious it has dented the AAP’s image and made people question if they are mature enough for power.

Your government fell, I pointed out to Jyotsna ji. Well, she replied, the Congress didn’t let it last. Few are better than the AAP with political communication.

Some days ago I asked her who she was planning to vote in the central elections. Nobody, she replied. They’re all useless. Which is how most people in most countries feel about most politicians anyway, but what happened to Jyotsna ji’s newfound love for the broom party? “See, Congress is useless and jhadu didn’t last long, or wasn’t allowed to last long, or whatever happened but the experiment didn’t work out.” And Modi? “Modi tou chor hai!” she said with a vehemence that surprised me. “Modi is a thief!” Labelling Modi and the BJP as being equal with Congress in corruption was the AAP’s trick, and evidently the broom party’s communication was still strong even when they were losing a voter.

Yesterday, she said she’ll go to vote. Really? But I thought you won’t vote? “I am thinking that I should. When they come to demolish the jhuggi and I plead with them not to, the politicians will say you don’t even vote.” But I though you didn’t live in the jhuggi anymore? “I don’t, but I gave out my rooms there on rent”.

Renting out rooms you don’t own – her village folk are clearly never going to be this smart.

So who will you vote for? I haven’t decided, she insisted. How’s that possible, you must have some thoughts? “All my life I have voted Congress so my son was saying this time,” she hesitated to complete the sentence, “why not try the lotus?” Lotus is the election symbol of Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party.

Who are others in the jhuggi voting for? What is your jhuggi leader saying? “I don’t know,” she said. “I go there rarely.”

She admits that her monthly ration has become cheaper under a new food security law enacted by the Congress but that’s not good enough for her. She is no longer bound to the blackmail that is the Congress’ patronage system of capturing long-term vote blocks. Even if the slum is demolished she won’t be on the road. She is free now, free like you and me, a free woman happy to make wrong choices at the polling booth and learn from them the next election.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 11th, 2014.

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Reader Comments (9)

  • stclemson
    Apr 11, 2014 - 2:31AM

    The author is woefully ill-informed, the communists pulled through the greatest poverty reduction scheme in all of India. Because of continuous migration from East Pakistan ever since 1947 that peaked in 1971, the BPL (below poverty line) share of population in West Bengal in 1972 was 76% (greater than Bihar). With robust broad based land reform (something that Nitish Kumar tried to emulate when he first came to power) the communists, who started in 1977, lifted tens of millions out of poverty over a period of 15 years. Today the state has a share of BPL population of just above 20%, comparable to Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, despite absorbing continuous migration from neighboring poor states such as Jharkhand, Bihar, Orissa, and Nepal, not to mention Bangladesh.


  • water bottle
    Apr 11, 2014 - 5:37AM

    This shows what a horrible country we live in, with the worst of the worst standing for elections.

    Honorable common people find it difficult to enter politics given the environment the others have created for decades.

    Modi is indeed a thief. Common people who sing his praise for the development of Gujarat completely forget that his money for campaign is coming from some of the most corrupt vested businesses such as Ambanis.

    Once voted to power, Modi’s duty is to serve the Ambanis and not the common people. The policies he will make will favor the rich and not the poor.

    Congress is corrupt and communal. Congress is the most communal party in India.

    Perhaps this explains why most people vote for regional parties. At least they fulfill some small promises they make to people even though they loot the country more than Congress and Bjp combines.


  • water bottle
    Apr 11, 2014 - 11:51AM

    Do you call her Jyotsna ‘Ji’ at home? Or is ‘ji’ just a dishonest honorific to elicit admiration?


  • Babloo
    Apr 11, 2014 - 5:52PM

    @water bottle,
    we grew up calling helps as “mausi” and elderly male helps as “mama’ or “kaka” and my father would always speak extremely respectfully to all helps. I don’t know about now but when I grew up in my family the helps were treated with care and respect. No wonder they never left.


  • abhi
    Apr 11, 2014 - 11:20PM

    so now you know which way wind is blowing. Abki bar ….


  • lohana
    Apr 12, 2014 - 12:16AM

    @water bottle: From your silly comments about Modi being a thief I am guessing U are an AAP-tard. Now I am not fond of Mukesh Ambani but I realize the fact that RIL Employs lakhs of people directly and indirectly. Its fashionable for AK49 to paint someone as Evil, Demonize him Make Ambani into a Big Goliath and act like David. Can you substantiate your allegation about Ambani benefiting from Modi? Even a shred of prima-facie evidence? any FIR? anything. No Land has been allotted to RIL since Modi came to power. RIL was present in Gujarat much before Modi became CM.

    Any person who wishes to promote Industrialization and growth will be pro-business, doesnt mean there is corruption involved. IT Sector has thrived and grown in India only because it got a 10 Year Tax Holiday under STPI which was further extended by UPA govt. Fools like you will say IT Companies bribed Govt to get this. So kindly ask Former CFO of Infosys who is now in AAP how much bribe did Infy pay to NDA and UPA for this Tax Holiday?

    Going by silly logic of AAP, Microsoft must have bribed Bill Clinton coz They earned lot of money in 90’s and Bill gates become the Richest person during tenure of Bill Clinton ryt? Using AAP Logic, Apple Inc is the Reliance of USA. First They Bribed Bush and later Obama Coz Apple now has a cash reserve of 100 Billion Dollars. See how silly that sounds? thats why leftist jholawallahs and NGO people should not dabble in economic matters.


  • Ali Tanoli
    Apr 12, 2014 - 12:16AM

    I read it some where in urdu magazine that all the patriot lives abroad i could not get it untill i left the country pakistan or india same shi….t situation exist since so called freedom….


  • Parvez Unum
    Apr 12, 2014 - 12:34AM

    That was an excellent way of giving a bit of an insight into the way the average voter would think and vote……..the democratic process is far from perfect but when it works, its still the best method of going about the business.


  • Gp65
    Apr 12, 2014 - 1:20AM

    @water bottle:
    When we were growing up,my mother always appended the term ben to the name of our help and certainly did not tolerate any rudeness by us kids. So i am not surprised by the author’s respectful address.


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