Polling punches in a Southern state of mind

I’ve never been in the South during election time and things seem to be a little different here in Chennai from other parts of the country. Unlike in the East-West-North, I don’t have any language to speak to people on the street, and my narrow sampling is from the educated, English-speaking class with which I come into contact.

But even here, people are calmer, their disagreements articulate. Various kinds of psephological nerdiness are on full display, but without the accompanying rancour one is used to when arguing with say Bengalis, Punjabis or Hindi-belt folks. There’s an almost destabilising absence of kinship and/or genitalic cuss words. People down here argue. But they also let the other person actually speak. Like totally weird, da.

Everyone agrees that in the behemoth state of Tamil Nadu, things are going to go just as they have in the past. ‘They can come and do as many rallies as they want. People will go to see also, because they are crudely entertaining. But as for votes, forget it. Their nonsense has never worked in these parts.’

Neither is anyone expecting surprises in the adjacent, narrow-shaped state of Kerala. ‘As usual it’s between the two traditional rivals, the other guys don’t have much traction. People are having too much education, you see.’

The third big-bruiser state of Karnataka, though, is harder to call. Education? Yes. But not like its neighbours. Different language? Yes. But they’re also shading into the speech-system prevalent immediately north. Also, dum-dum-diga-diga, different castes and ethnicities pulling in different directions, you see. ‘Now state elections are one thing, but with the Lok Sabha things will be different. These local leaders are good with local issues. But the other guys are selling their grand vision of India being a mega-power – a lot of people will go for that.’

Another person bursts out laughing. ‘What world power? We can’t even send hit men who are physically fit! You know, you read no, how that fat fellow got out of breath when running away? Only we can do this!’ The group laughs, but only briefly. The first speaker is now in a debate with a third nerd. ‘So, how many out of, what, 28? State government or not, I think they will only get 2-3 seats, no more.’ The Nerd has a different take: ‘No, I’ve been helping make mathematical models, and according to our calculations the split will be more like maybe they will retain only 16, but a full 12 will go the other way.’ The first man laughs, ‘I think these calculations take us back to 1985. Wishful thinking!’ One evening, I call a journalist friend whose current beat is in the dark heartland of the furthest southern areas of the non-south. What khabar? My friend can’t say what the final results will be, but people are mainly talking about unemployment, rozi-roti and farming conditions. One thing’s for sure is there is no ‘wave’ in these parts.

Speaking to another friend who studies political trends, in what one could call the ‘central/south’, yields more predictive fog. He, too, isn’t sure. But something doesn’t seem to be in consonance with most surveys and predictions.

I finish hanging with my Southy friends and acquaintances and head back from the periphery of the heat wave to the eye of the blast furnace. As usual, my phone seems to know what I’m doing before I do. No sooner have I landed in the Calferno, my feed lights up with a feisty Haryanvi farmer lady.

‘And who are you going to vote for ma-ji? For symbol ___ or symbol ____?’

‘Symbol ___ can go ___! Symbol ___ can also go___!’

‘How old are you, maa-ji?’

‘Me? I’m four short of a hundred.’

‘And, ma-ji, what do you think about ___?’

‘Him? That ___? He can go ___ his ___!’

‘What? Okay… and what about the other parties?’

‘They are also ___ of ___! I’ve seen them all and the whole bunch of the are ___!’

I promise myself that by the next elections I will learn at least two cuss words from Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam.


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