Envy, Nostalgia, and Voting Twice in the 1977 Election

Elections are just around the corner in India. And I sit far away in the mid-west of the U.S. looking on with envy at those who are right in the thick of things. I wish I was there; but then choices have consequences, and missing the elections in India is a price that I have to pay given my choice of place and profession. Along with envy I feel nostalgia. This feeling returns every time there is an election in India. But this is the first election in India after my father’s (Appa) passing away and I fondly remember casting two votes in the same election!

Mrs. Gandhi’s Emergency rule was on, and for reasons which are unexplainable even today she called an election. It was the election of March 1977. She called the election on January 18, 1977. The period between 1975 and 1977 was the foundation of my peer group’s political awakening. Those years, after most Saturday scout meetings Rajeev (now Professor IIM-B, spokesman for the Congress Party, and Nandan Nilekani friend/adviser – read below why this connection is relevant) and I would eat idli-vada-sambhar at (if memory serves me right) Prakash Hotel on Residency Road, opposite the old Reserve Bank of India building, in spite of my mother warning me not to discuss politics in public (or private) lest I be arrested! Paranoia was normal, given the happenings of the Emergency. We may not have been able to philosophically differentiate between left and right, but we spoke a lot about the right and wrong of politics. And Rajeev, even in those days, was well versed in the sociology of politics. And even though we were just entering our teens, we were politically aware and engaged, and we chose sides.

Mrs. Gandhi’s call for the March 1977 parliamentary election was a game changer. Jagjivan Ram, H.N. Bahuguna, and Nandini Satpathy abandoned Mrs. Gandhi and formed the Congress for Democracy, which later merged with the newly formed Janata Party which put up a united (and based on the outcome, formidable) front to the Congress. It seemed that this time there was a contest.

It was under these circumstances that I cast two votes – well before Sharad Pawar recommended that people do the same!.

We lived in Wilson Gardens and our constituency was Bangalore South. The election in Bangalore South was mainly between two men of renown. K.S. Hegde (Janata Party – symbol Farmer) and K. Hanumanthaiah (Congress – symbol Cow and Calf). Hegde, who was running for the Lok Sabha for the first time, was a former Justice of the Supreme Court and would later go on to become the Speaker of the Lok Sabha. Hanumanthaiah who held the seat, was a former chief minister of the erstwhile (that is nostalgia speaking) Mysore state, who went on to become a member of the Union Cabinet, and after whom Double Road (the one that leads into Lal Bagh) is named. There were well attended rallies at the Hombe Gowda Boys School grounds. Oh the joy I felt after attending one of those K.S. Hegde rallies. I can still recall the loud speaker’s call of, “Please cast your alubil alubil ote in favor af K.S. Hegde. K.S. Hegdege nimma matha kodi, nimma matha, K.S. Hegdege

It was also the time when Appa had come down with a bout of jaundice and was bed ridden. He was on a diet on Keelanalli and bland veggies, and was ordered to ‘bedrest’. There was no question of him going and standing in line to cast a vote. And my mother (Amma) was going to not vote with him. Damn be that this was possibly the most important election in the short thirty year history of Indian independence, and that they should make their vote count. My mother was playing nurse and worked out that at the margin their two votes would make no difference, while it would matter if my father’s liver would take a turn for the worse. The doctor had ordered bedrest and bedrest it would be.

I argued my case over and over again. Appa discussed a great deal of politics with me and I was pretty sure that if he voted he would vote for Hegde; Amma I was not sure. I was Hegde’s operative in our house. But I was up against jaundice and Amma. So I struck a deal with Appa – he would go and vote if he did not have to stand in line. Reluctantly, Amma fell in line. So off I went to meet the polling officer in the Hombe Gowda Boys School polling station. I explained the situation to him and inquired whether my sick father and mother could jump the line and vote. He agreed. I returned home triumphantly, and packed my parents into the car with our driver Janardhanan steering us to the polling station. The voting took place as arranged – two votes were cast by people who drove down in a nimbus blue Premier Padmini, or was it the light green matador, ah memory fails me. And a fourteen year old was responsible for casting two votes.

I have no idea if those two votes had any effect on the final vote difference between KSH and KH – as I said I’m pretty sure how Appa voted, but Amma’s vote still remains a secret. I do not know if she added to Hegde’s total, or neutralized Appa’s vote. And in case you were wondering, K.S. Hegde won – the only non-Congress candidate to win from Karnataka that year. (That last sentence is wrong. On reading this blog Rajeev just informed me that Hassan was also won by the Janata Party – Nanjesha Gowda was the candidate. I could have simply corrected my error, but then…Thanks Rajeev)

While the farmer, and, the cow and calf are no longer competing symbols, there are parallels in Bangalore South between 1977 and 2014. Again it is a contest between a veteran and a newbie, though this time the BJP candidate Ananth Kumar is the veteran, and Nandan Nilekani the Congress candidate is running for the first time. At that time Rajeev supported the Congress as he does now. But unlike last time, he’s working to get people to the polls for his guy in Bangalore South. Then, I was engaged and enthusiastic. Now, I am envious, and nostalgic!

Oh, how wonderful!

P.S.

  • The Rajeev I refer to is Rajeev Gowda. I called him Rajeev because in those days he was M.V. Rajeev.
  • Rajeev’s uncle successfully contested the 1977 elections from Chikballapur in Karnataka.
  • Also if anybody reading this knows why all the Janata Party candidates are listed as BLD (Bharatiya Lok Dal, presumably) in the official elections results, please tell us.
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