V. Viswanatha Menon has a unique distinction in the electoral history of Ernakulam Parliamentary constituency dating back to 1951.
He remains the only CPM candidate to have won the seat on the party symbol in the constituency. In that victory dating back to 1967, Mr. Menon defeated Congress candidate and sitting MP A.M. Thomas by 16,606 votes.
Mr. Menon recollects that campaigning in that contest almost half a century ago was far from being a smooth affair. Residues of the stigma associated with Communism were yet to wear out completely and the Marxist party was far from a popular party with a mass base that it is now.
“During our door-to-door campaign we were received with a lot of hostility and often our notices were torn into pieces,” Mr. Menon remembers.
He recollected one particular incidence, which remains etched in his memory even after all these years. He was campaigning at a household and the person was all ears. “Then I gave him a campaign leaflet and without saying a word he simply put it down on a table and nailed with a knife,” Mr. Menon said.
People are not so intolerant now and responds in a more civilised and liberal manner even if they have strong disagreement with the candidate.
“Apart from that, campaigning hasn’t changed much. Candidates still have to brave the heat and visit households. Of course, campaigning expenses have gone up,” Mr. Menon said.
However, literary critic M.K. Sanoo who won from the Ernakulam Assembly constituency as the LDF-backed independent candidate in 1987 feels that household visits are no longer an active campaigning tool.
“So far, no political parties have visited my house. In the past, campaigning teams would have made at least two or three visits by now. In fact, teams used to visit a household five or six times before elections especially if they felt that the voter concerned can be wooed by persistence persuasion,” he said.
Mr. Sanoo recollected that impromptu meetings at junctions were the order of the day during election campaigns in the past. Now, there is no need for such constant interaction and as such the number of such meetings has come down.
He cited the ever increasing influence of money as another apparent change in campaigning. Ironically, the electorate also seems to be impressed by the show of money power rather than be put off by it.
“In between, there was a time when the influence of money waded considerably when it became clear that it didn’t guarantee votes. There was this particular municipal election contested by a rich candidate who splurged money and fed his jumbo election committee of more hundred persons. But when the results were out, he had managed just 22 votes proving that even those in his election committee didn’t vote for him,” Mr. Sanoo recollected.
Media critic Sebastian Paul, who had represented Ernakulam in Parliament in 2004 but had been very active in the election scene years before it, laments a perceptible decline in people’s involvement in campaigning over the years.
“People were the real participants in campaigning back then making it a festival of democracy. There was spirited competition among supporters of competing parties whether it is in ensuring that their party flags fluttered higher than that of their rivals or writing graffiti in their localities. It was like that marriage in a hamlet which saw the participation of all local people,” Mr. Paul said.
He said that the strict norms of Election Commission had played a significant role in the changing the complexion of campaigning.
Now, while the campaigning has a professional touch thanks to the involvement of event management firms, it has lost the people’s touch. Mr. Paul cited the massive use of technology and social media-driven campaigning as another major change compared to elections held a few decades ago.