General Elections

Campaign classics

Print edition : May 16, 2014

October 1952: Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru during his tour of Rayalaseema. In the first Lok Sabha elections held in 1951-52, the Congress won 364 of the 489 seats with a 45 per cent vote share. Photo: The Hindu Archives

1962: Nehru, T.T. Krishnamachari and K. Kamaraj leave the makeshift stage after Nehru addressed an election meeting at Tilak Ghat in Triplicane, Madras, in February. Photo: The Hindu Archives

1957: Nehru emerges from "Meghdoot", the Prime Minister's Ilyushin aircraft, after landing at the Wellingdon Island airstrip in Kochi, when he arrived for campaigning in Kerala in February. Photo: The Hindu Archives

1957: Nehru addressing an election meeting at Gurgaon (Punjab), where Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was the candidate. Azad won with 1,91,221 votes and a 66.68 per cent vote share. Photo: The Hindu Archives

1967: In Madras city, meeting people at their doorstep. Photo: The Hindu Archives

1967: Appealing to voters on the road on public address systems fitted on motor cars. Photo: The Hindu Archives

1967: Appealing to voters on the road on public address systems fitted on motor cars. Photo: The Hindu Archives

1962: In Madras city, posters banners and symbols of the Congress, the Swatantra Party, the DMK and the Tamil national parties make their presence felt as campaigning picks up closer to the polling date in February. Of the 41 seats in the State, the Congress won 31, the last time that it won 30 or more seats on its own in the State. Photo: The Hindu Archives

1962: A Swatantra Party advertisement in "The Hindu". Photo: The Hindu Archives

1967: Waiting to vote in the fourth general election in Madras. Photo: The Hindu Archives

1967: In Madras city, ballot boxes being taken from the sealed room where they were stored to a counting centre. Photo: The Hindu Archives

1967: At the election information centre in New Delhi. The Posts and Telegraphs Department opened similar centres in several cities in the country. Photo: The Hindu Archives

Congress leadership issue, March 1967: The political drama in New Delhi ended to everyone's satisfaction on March 11 after Congress president K. Kamaraj worked tirelessly to find common ground, and this resulted in Morarji Desai withdrawing his candidature and ending the need for an election. Indira Gandhi was subsequently re-elected leader at the Congress Parliamentary Party meeting. Photo: The Hindu Archives

Morarji Desai (second from left). Photo: The Hindu Archives

K. Kamaraj. Photo: The Hindu Archives

1971: Indira Gandhi acknowledging the greetings of partymen soon after her election as the leader of the Congress Parliamentary Party on March 18. Also seen in the picture are Congress president Jagjivan Ram and K. Hanumanthaiah, the visionary and statesman from Karnataka. Photo: The Hindu Archives

1971: Indira Gandhi addressing an election rally at Bolpur, West Bengal. Photo: The Hindu Archives

1977: Indira Gandhi addressing an election meeting in Madurai on March 7. Seated behind her are AIADMK leader M.G. Ramachandran and to his left, G.K. Moopanar. Photo: The Hindu Archives

November 1977: Jayaprakash Narayan addressing a public meeting at Sitabdiara, his birthplace in Bihar. Photo: The Hindu Archives

May 1977: Morarji Desai, who took charge as Prime Minister in the Janata Party government two months earlier, arriving in Madras on a two-day tour. Photo: The Hindu Archives

1977: Voters queue up outside a polling booth in Lucknow on March 18 in the sixth general election. Photo: The Hindu Archives

Voters making their way to the polling booth in a constituency in Rajasthan. Photo: The Hindu Archives

1980: In New Delhi, Indira Gandhi addresses supporters after her election victory in January. The Congress won 353 out of 542 seats. Photo: The Hindu Archives

1980: Indira Gandhi arrives at Madras airport on January 18, four days after she was sworn in as Prime Minister for the fourth time. Photo: The Hindu Archives

1980: A victorious Indira Gandhi arrives in Thiruvananthapuram on January 17. Photo: The Hindu Archives

1984: Rajiv Gandhi after he was elected leader of the Congress Parliamentary Party in New Delhi on December 31. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

1989: Rajiv Gandhi congratulates V.P. Singh after he was sworn in as Prime Minister in New Delhi on December 2. Photo: The Hindu Archives

1989: V. P. Singh is congratulated by N.T. Rama Rao on his election as leader of the National Front Parliamentary Party in New Delhi on December 1. Among the others in the picture are (from right) M. Karunanidhi and Devi Lal. Photo: The Hindu Archives

May 1, 1991: Rajiv Gandhi on his way to address an election meeting in Udaipur, Rajasthan. Photo: The Hindu Archives

May 19, 1991: AIADMK general secretary Jayalalithaa campaigning in Chennai. Photo: The Hindu Archives

April 1991: Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar addressing an election meeting at Rura village in Kanpur. Photo: The Hindu Archives

1991: Janata Dal leaders V.P. Singh and Ajit Singh (right) at an election meeting, at Mallaban in Hardoi district in Uttar Pradesh on April 8. Photo: The Hindu Archives

June 1991: Congress president P.V. Narasimha Rao (left) with Gujarat Chief Minister Chimanbhai Patel at an election meeting in Ahmedabad. Photo: The Hindu Archives

1991: BJP leader L.K. Advani amid supporters while campaigning in Baharaich, Lucknow, on May 15. Photo: The Hindu Archives

1996: Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav at an election rally at Ali Ganj in the Etah parliamentary constituency in Uttar Pradesh on May 4. Photo: The Hindu Archives

1996: H.D. Deve Gowda (right) with Janata Dal president and Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Prasad and the Janata Dal's S.R. Bommai after he was unanimously elected to the post of Prime Minister, on May 14. Photo: The Hindu Archives

1998: The newly elected Congress president Sonia Gandhi with Ajit Singh, president of the Bharatiya Kisan Kamgar Party, and her son Rahul Gandhi in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, to address an election rally on February 13 in support of the Congress-BKKP alliance candidate. Photo: The Hindu Archives

1998: Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi campaigning in Chennai on February 3. The Senior party leaders with him include Union Minister for Industry Murasoli Maran (to Karunanidhi's left) and his son and City Mayor M.K. Stalin. Photo: The Hindu Archives

1998: Atal Bihari Vajpayee addressing an election meeting in Bhopal on November 20. Seated at left is Narendra Modi, then the BJP's general secretary in charge of Madhya Pradesh. Photo: The Hindu Archives

1999: Janata Dal leader Sharad Yadav, who defeated RJD chief Lalu Prasad, on his arrival at the Delhi airport on October 10. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

2004: Former Prime Minister V.P. Singh and former West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu make their way to the stage to address an election meeting in central Kolkata on May 4. Photo: The Hindu Archives

2009: Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekara Reddy campaigning at Nandikotkur in Kurnool district on April 21. Photo: The Hindu Archives

General elections in India—the campaigning, the victories and defeats and the cold calculations.

The 1971 general election, called a year ahead of schedule, was the first when a political party used a slogan in its campaign against the backdrop of the prevailing situation and as a response to it. And “Garibi Hatao” seemed to come from the heart, at least that it is what the people thought when they gave Indira Gandhi and the Congress 352 seats (out of 518), up from the 283 the party held.

Then there was the infamous campaign during the 2004 general election where an attempt was made to build Brand India with a hackneyed slogan. But the corporate-style approach to “India Shining” bombed for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which initiated it, and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) it led. From 299 seats (out of 543) in 1999, the NDA was reduced to 189 and the BJP itself was reduced to 138 seats against the 182 it held.

But beyond the slogans and the sloganeering, each election has its own unique feel amplified by the personalities involved, the issues that surround the election as also the campaign styles of candidates and supporters as they reach out to voters. If in 1977 the Janata Party successfully pitched its campaign as a choice between democracy and dictatorship, in 1980 Indira Gandhi returned to power with a massive majority (353 seats) on the fractured remains of the Janata experiment campaigning on the slogan of stability and with the hand as the symbol for the first time.

The 1996 election campaign featured P.V. Narasimha Rao’s economic reforms vs the BJP’s Hindutva. The reforms failed to sway the electorate and the BJP emerged as the single-largest party with 161 seats. Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s 13-day government gave way to a United Front government led by H.D. Deve Gowda of the Janata Dal supported by the Congress.

The 1999 campaign was perhaps the first time two personalities from rival political parties faced off against each other. All other things being equal between the Congress and the BJP, it was a Sonia Gandhi (“videshi”) vs Vajpayee (“swadeshi”) battle. The “swadeshi” won this time and lasted the full term only to be stung by “India Shining” in 2004. In 2009, the L.K. Advani-led BJP campaign went with the slogan “Majboot Neta Nirnayak Sarkar” and the Sonia-led Congress decided to highlight its achievements of the past five years and promised to deliver more on the welfare and development fronts.

Amid the larger campaign strategies of the main political parties and the rallies addressed by prominent leaders and film personalities, often they lost sight of the need to connect with the voters at the local level. It is as much about popularising the party’s election symbol as it is about presenting the candidates to the voters. The campaign comes alive as candidates and party activists look for new ways to attract attention. Hair on the head carved out in the shape of the party symbol and ear studs in the shape of the party symbol are but a couple of ways to grab attention.

In this round, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has taken increasingly to such mass contact programmes at the local level, “broom” in hand. Every election also has its own maverick candidates, mostly independents. They are more often than not distractions, but in this round even such distractions could weigh with the voters if they are from serious candidates of the AAP.

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