Independents speak softly, carry a big placard

April 21, 2009

It’s 7.30 am, but the small band of supporters of Meera Sanyal, the ABN-Amro banker contesting the election as an independent in south Mumbai, is bright-eyed and raring to go, holding placards and shouting “Vote for Meera Sanyal”.

At the first stop, a housing colony of about 300 middle-class families, they disperse, some knocking on doors, others distributing handbills and chatting with curious residents getting ready for the day.

Sanyal, dressed in a traditional salwar-kameez and sneakers, folds her hands and introduces herself in Hindi, and seeks the blessings of an older woman: “I am trying to understand your problems better,” she says.

A young man to whom she introduces herself tells her independent candidates can’t make a difference.

“What have parties done for south Mumbai. They have not delivered,” Sanyal tells him.

He remains unconvinced, so Sanyal tells him: “You are welcome to vote for whoever you want. I think I can make more of a difference as an independent.”

Another resident gives Sanyal’s brother, her “back office manager”, a handwritten complaint about a landfill in the back. Sanyal’s brother, a surgeon who has shut his small hospital to help his sister with her campaign, goes off to look at the landfill, while the others, including a live mascot of the cricketer symbol she’s campaigning under, join hands and sing “Hum Honge Kaamyab”, a Hindi version of “We shall overcome”.

Their routine is in sharp contrast to the dramatic chopper entry, the loudspeakers, giant cutouts and massive rallies of larger parties.┬áPrime Minister Manmohan Singh last week called independents “spoilers” and some prominent business leaders have endorsed the Congress incumbent in south Mumbai, saying independents will split the vote.

Despite the criticism and skepticism, however, it would seem that independents such as Sanyal, dancer Mallika Sarabhai in Ahmedabad and GR Gopinath in Bangalore are shaking things up this election.


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Rina: is it correct Sanyal is on leave till the 15th May. the elections results will only come out on the 16th. So is she sure she will lose? Otherwise she would have taken leave at least till 17th.
There are hundreds of independents in this election. I am dissapointed you chose to look at only big cities and celebrities. But even in celebrity obsessed media, you are missing out some real candidates who are running real campaigns.

Posted by hritik | Report as abusive

Dear Rina,

Hritik is some how true in his words but still it is obviously that media is biased to celebratory after all they are the material to be sell able.

But the real point i think is not even mention some how in broader way. How and why independent such as capt. Gopinath, Meera are coming and contesting the election. May be they are too seriuos for the change in politics or just their indivuual ambination towards fame or do some thing at page 3 , well this can be proved only after if they win what exactly they are in capablity. BUt truth is they are just a spoiler for some party and boon for another.

But still the stance taken by them are very appreciable and commendable.

Posted by Amit Daga | Report as abusive

it is obvious that Rina has never stepped off her South Mumbai home. there have been independents throughout the Indian electoral history and many have won too.
But i guess for Media, Meera and capt gopinath are better known and sellable and frankly if one stays in the metros easier to cover too.

Posted by Vineet | Report as abusive

Hritik, yes Sanyal is on leave of absence from her bank; if she wins, she will resign from her job. And I agree there are hundreds, if not thousands of independents out there, running real campaigns. I just happen to live in south Mumbai and know it better than other places, and I picked her as an example of an independent in this election.
That does not mean, as Vineet suggests, that I’ve never stepped outside my south Mumbai home. See my blog on Sonia Gandhi’s rally in Sakoli village, Vineet. And yes, while thousands of independents have contested in the past, of the more than 2,000 of them in 2004 only five won.

Posted by Rina Chandran | Report as abusive

Dear Rina,

DO not take that comment on personal and Vineet also should not comment personally. But this is very true that media is biased as i earlier mention too that they need some product to sell able . So Just accept the fact and we appreciate the subject but limited to highlight LIME LIGHT Public faces.

Posted by Amit Daga | Report as abusive

@ Rina, South Bombay is a state of the mind, and in that sense, Vineet’s right: you’ve never ever stepped out ! Your reportage on Sonia just is another evidence in favour of that prognosis.

Posted by Ing Shiong | Report as abusive

i fully support the Independents, but will their popular support result in actual electoral victories. Most of these independents have impressive credentials and ardently hope that they win, but perhaps they are contesting more to create public awarness than win elections.

Posted by thetrajectory | Report as abusive

Isn’t Shiv Khera participating this time around? Wonder how many votes he can drum up on his promise of a corruption-free world.

And as for Vineet, I don’t think any independent candidates in India have been covered so well before as this election. They actually have a chance this time — thanks to the youth in cities who have senn and heard their message through blogs, YouTube and television debates.

Meera Sanyal actually has a good chance.

Posted by naresh | Report as abusive

@ hritik Happy 2009 !! Didnt you notice 15th May is a Friday hence she needs to join work on Monday 18th May :-)

Posted by Maya | Report as abusive

I hope and wish that these independent candidates win this time. It would set a record of sorts in Indian Politics.

Posted by Darshana | Report as abusive

I fail to understand this bias against independents, just because they are independents or even celebrities. Truth be told I had never heard of Meera Sanyal before. I think most here too were not familiar with her. Somehow just because she stands for elections alone, she suddenly is considered page 3 or celebrity status.

Wouldn’t it be better if we discussed the issues that she brings out and find fault with that. That no one has done anything for Mumbai and Mumbaikers? Is that in dispute? Aren’t we shooting the messenger in criticising her? Aren’t politicians like Amar Singh, the Bollywood crowd and a whole heap of others also page 3 types? Some of them have pretty shady dealings too? Why this frontal attack on people who seem to be trying to make a difference and putting their money where their mouth is? Aren’t we always talking of cleansing the system of the corrupt and sleaze that has set in? So what is wrong in what these people are trying to do? Don’t they deserve a chance too?

I agree she will probably lose, but that makes her more courageous and to me shows more character then the rest of the tried and failed caboodle that passes off for servants of the public. I think people like her deserve our respect.

Posted by Dara | Report as abusive

Constituitionally Indepentdent candidates have full rights to contest elections but i still feel they are more of a spoilers.In south mumbai constituency there is a direct fight between the Congress and Shiv Sena. I personally feel the voters should select a good secular candidate between the two or whoever has a better chance to win.

Posted by Saeed | Report as abusive

Election coverage by the media is very much biased towards select metro cities. Hardly any debate or discussions take place on problems relating to rural and semi urban areas.Showing some celebrities voting on the TV from Mumbai alone is not suffice to focus on the depth of Indian democracy.Hardly any coverage on independent candidates contesting from rural and semi urban areas. Really some candidates have done commendable jobs.Why this regional bias? Is media more interested in selling news only ?

Posted by ramanji | Report as abusive

“Despite the criticism and skepticism, however, it would seem that independents such as Sanyal, dancer Mallika Sarabhai in Ahmedabad and GR Gopinath in Bangalore are shaking things up this election.”

—Yeah; amongst the ‘pappu’s’ who don’t vote…

Posted by anup | Report as abusive

“So what is wrong in what these people are trying to do?”

—for all their sincerity & integrity the prob. is that the system is such that they won’t be able to do a damn even if elected & from another angle what stop’s all these ‘clean characters’ to get together & contest the elections as a united force? their bloated ego’s, so at the end of the day they’re of the autocratic mindset which is detrimental to a democracy.

Posted by anup | Report as abusive