A sample of responses from people that make it impossible to predict who will win.
A Congress worker at the Aa Bael Mujhe Maar (Come strike me, bull) satirical street convention in Chhindwara
It was the beginning of summer in Mandla. The Baigas were out with their bead jewellery and freshly painted tattoos. The Dhoba Gonds marched ahead sporting recently washed white turbans. Several people had come on foot or motorcycles. Rahul Gandhi was visiting and the word had spread like wildfire that anyone with a ration card could walk up to Gandhi and air their grievances.
There are many grievances—Janani Express ambulances not heeding to calls of pregnant women, corruption in the rural employment scheme, absence of roads, water supply, cheating by tendu contractors. These are common reasons for villages to boycott polls.
Unfortunately, Mr. Gandhi’s interaction was a private one with a group of tendu gatherer women who had been vetted by the police for a week. The following conversation was overheard at one of the several police barricades where restive youth had begun chanting slogans against the government for not allowing them to meet Gandhi.
Lady: Arey oh Kotwar (special police officer) bhaiya. Why won’t Rahul meet us?
Village Kotwar: They’re scared that someone will kill him.
Lady: Who will kill him?
Kotwar: The Delhi Police knows who they are.
Lady’s son, ten year old: Where is Delhi?
Kotwar: Far away son, where Mother Narmada meets the sea.
Boy: Rahul ji knows Mother Narmada?
Lady constable: Run away now. The police are looking for naxalites. They’ll catch you.
Boy to his mother: Does naxalite mean the Flower People (the Lotus flower is the symbol of the BJP)
Local sarpanch: Laughs. No, Gondwana (Gantantra Party) bhaiyas are called naxals.
Mother: Rahul is not from Gondwana?
Sarpanch: No, he’s from Congress. The Elephant People.
Congress activist: No, We are the Hand people.
Baiga chieftain: If he meets us we’ll press the Hand button.
Congressman: Press the Hand symbol. He can’t meet us because the police are stopping him.
Gond Lady: Laughs. He’s scared the tigers will eat him up.
Head constable (from a neighbouring district): Asks worriedly: “There are tigers here?”
Lady: Yes, we saw one on our way here.
Policeman: You saw a tiger!
Lady: Yes, we paid our respects and it gave us blessings and walked away.
Policeman shouting at the Kotwar: You said there are no wild animals here!
Village elder to cop: He is old and can’t see properly. How will he know? If wild animals can’t stay in this forest, then where will they go?
TV reporter arrives, thrusts his mic at the Baigas and aks, “Are you angry that Rahul ji is not meeting you. What do you want to say to him?”
Baiga chieftain: Is he Indira ji’s child?
Reporter: No, he’s her grandson.
Chieftain: How is she now?
Reporter: You fool, she died many years ago.
Baigas look shocked
Baiga woman: What are you saying? She’s our queen. She can’t die.
It’s the dead of the night. I am on a highway somewhere on the Guna-Bhopal border. The highway has degenerated into a dirt track. The taxi’s engine is threatening to give up. Amidst a thicket, we find a dhaba lit with a fluorescent lamp. The owner asks us to stop.
Owner: Have some tea, there’s nothing else for 30 km.
Me: Do you have anything to eat.
Owner (whom I realise is piss drunk): Whatever you wish will be granted your highness.
Driver: Tea will do.
Owner yells at his two sons: You *****, make good tea fast. Big people have come from Bhopal.
Looks at me and says, “These **** won’t learn if I am not strict. What brings you to this place?
Me: I am writing about the election in a newspaper.
Owner: Good, good. My name is Kamal Dangi. I am the local mukhya (largest landlord of the village). I own 20 acres and five buildings. It is all god’s benevolence. I went to school, but I can’t read. So you write in newspapers?
Dangi: Who will win this time?
Me: You tell me. You’re the mukhya.
Dangi: With all due respect. I don’t like the **** government.
Me: Which government?
Dangi. That *** (CM Shivraj) Chouhan’s government. The entire wheat crop has got destroyed in hail and he won’t even pay us insurance.
Me: So, you are supporting the Congress?
Dangi: No way. That ***** (Former CM) Digvijaya only gave us power cuts. We were destroyed and went into debt.
Me: Do you like the BSP or the AAP?
Dangi: We are the mukhyas of this place. Why will we vote for a bhangi (dalit) party (BSP)? Who is this AAP?
Me: The broom people. You know Arvind Kejriwal.
Dangi: Yes I have seen him on TV. He’s the CM of Delhi.
Me: He was. He quit
Dangi: Yes, he’s a good man.
Me: So you will vote for them.
Dangi: Beta, jahaan note wahaan vote (I will vote for whoever pays me). Others in the dhaba nod in agreement.
Assamese friend from Delhi calls on April 10, after voting.
Me: So, whom did you vote for?
Friend: I had decided to vote for (union minister Ajay) Maken (INC). But I voted for Ashish Khetan (AAP). My Ahomiya nationalist sentiments prevented me from pressing the Hand.
Me: So all of you (his brother and sister-in-law too) voted AAP?
Friend: No, they had decided on AAP but went and voted BJP instead.
Me: How? Has Jorhat (his hometown) voted yet?
Friend: No clue why they changed their mind. My dad voted (in Jorhat). He wanted to vote for BJP but ended up voting Asom Gana Parishad. Mom may have voted Congress but she didn’t go because she was ill.