Hitting the trail

India’s status as the world’s largest democracy, but also one of its least developed, means campaigning before an election can be a rough and ready experience. Courtney Trenwith spent a day on the trail with Digvijaya and Jaivardhan Singh in rural Madhya Pradesh to find out how the father-and-son team connect with the electorate.

Even in 2014, election rallies remain a mainstay of Indian campaigning, particularly in regional areas.

Even in 2014, election rallies remain a mainstay of Indian campaigning, particularly in regional areas.

The dust is still settling and the helicopter rotor blade continues at rapid speed, but Digvijaya Singh and his 27-year-old son Jaivardhan are already on the ground with their arms in the air, waving to the throng of people eagerly awaiting their arrival at Bhilwaria, a rural village of about 2,000 people.

The father-and-son political duo are quickly whisked into a four-wheel drive but they continue to reach out to the villagers through their windows and several times order the driver to stop so they can receive the blessings of men and women now lined on the side of the dirt road.

Security personnel softly push the people away with bamboo sticks. The Singhs are on a tight schedule, each with up to 10 villages – spread over hundreds of kilometres - to visit today.

While neither of them are running in this election, their respective positions in the national upper house and state assembly mean they not only have party obligations to campaign but their presence can be enormously influential on votes.

Digvijaya is a general secretary of the incumbent Indian National Congress party’s central decision-making body and the longest- serving chief minister of Madhya Pradesh (1993-2003), so he is particularly well received.

And in a country where politics is practically ruled by dynasties, Jaivardhan is immediately popular.

At the town centre at least 1,000 men, women and older teens are already waiting, squatting on the dirt floor under a light canopy.

Before the crowd has time to settle into place, Jaivardhan, who was only elected to the state assembly as the member for Raghogarh in November, as the youngest ever MP, leaps to centre stage and immediately begins a passionate appeal to voters.

Article continued on next page...

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