Public policy seems to have taken a back seat over the selection of candidates in the upcoming Madhya Pradesh Vidhan Sabha polls.

Gwalior Railway Station is the only place I have been asked for a ticket, after printed tickets ceased to be mandatory exactly two years ago. Ticket Collectors usually pick on those with little luggage, who are presumed to be commuters from local trains, not load bearing long-distance ones like myself. But at the gate of the station in Gwalior, a young and determined looking lady—with a North Central Railway badge on her jacket—commanded me in shuddh Hindi: “Shreemaan, kripya ticket pradaan karein!

In town to cover Rahul Gandhi’s “Respect above development” rally, my mind was preoccupied with the all-pervasive gossip over who gets to contest from which constituency in assembly polls on November 25. Let alone the parties represented in the house, viz. BJP, Congress, BSP and the SP (in descending order of respective strengths), even those formerly in the Vidhan Sabha like the Gondwana Gantantra Party, JD(U) and the NCP have several aspirants for every seat.

A day after the rally, Rasheed Kidwai, a venerable journalist, former colleague and author of two books on India’s “default” party, reported that Lakshman, the brother offormer CM Digvijaya Singh would not contest against the incumbent CM of MP, Shivraj Chouhan, in Budhni, as expected till now.

Lakshman Singh had changed party colours twice in the past. His actions were seen as part of the intrigue in the household that ruled a former principality in Central India. A few hours after the presses had cooled, the politician’s wife joined issue with the journalist on Twitter. A couple of trolls and another veteran journalist, N.D. Sharma known in Bhopal as the Godfather of Coffee House, joined in. At the end of the debate, there was no doubt left that family problems certainly affect democratic politics.

While the Congress’ ticket-politik battle gained traction online, the fortnight old ritual demonstrations against potential candidates continued at the BJP’s Deendayal Bhawan headquarters in Bhopal on Saturday. “We are a democratic party. This is a democratic way of expressing dissent in a democracy,” an exasperated Rajya Sabha MP of the party told this blog.

Ticket distribution often happens and is expected to happen on caste lines. It is seen as an expression of identity and representation. Ticket seekers often bolster their case qualifications such as “the image of a peasant’s son”, the winners they have backed in local body polls, education and oratory skills. A Jaipur based reporter, who is quite sick of the absurd theatre of ticket distribution, remarked, “**** my dad for not being a peasant.”

On a recent visit to Rewa—a district which, to a visitor, may appear untouched by public policy—this blogger found that despite serious issues of land and crime, the tea-stall dialectic pivoted on who would get a ticket. The Hindi daily Patrika's Rewa Bureau Chief Rajendra Gahirwar, who was having a hard time tackling phone calls from ticket seekers as he drove me to the station, said, “People don’t seem to care that we haven’t seen a new school or health centre here in the last five years. All they care about is ticket ticket ticket.”

On being asked for my ticket, I fumbled with my mobile. Seeing me struggle to find the text message from the railways, the ticket collector asked me to leave. “Aap shareef dikhte hain, jaa sakte hain.” ("You look decent; you can leave") If only parties could say the same about some of their ticket hopefuls.