No Rafale, No Mandir. Only Bad Jokes: What Elections Look Like in India's Poorest District -Suhas Munshi

Faring last on every quantifiable social parameter in the country, MP’s Alirajpur sees a different style of campaigning.

Alirajpur (MP):
It is hard to figure as one moves through the lanes of Alirajpur, located in the far west corner of Madhya Pradesh, that it will vote with the rest of the state on Wednesday.

There are no political billboards to be seen in the town, no vehicles move around with party flags and megaphones. In fact, it is one of those very few districts in the state where not one big political campaign, not one big public meeting has been held in this election season so far.

The fact that Alirajpur is a small town with 139 villages spread out over a large sparsely populated hilly area may have something to do with it. Another reason could be the fact that it is the poorest district in India.

Two months ago, a report put together by United Nations development Programme (UNDP) and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI), found Alirajpur to be the poorest district in the country, with 76.5 per cent of the district below poverty line.

Alirajpur fares last on every quantifiable social parameter in the country, including rate of literacy which is a mere 36.7%.

So naturally, when it comes to political campaigning, there is a departure from the practices followed in the rest of the state.

“They don’t want to waste their time and resources on gathering people from far-flung villages for a political event that will be conducted in a language they wouldn’t anyway understand,” says a journalist who has been reporting from here for the last 15 years.

“Considering the literacy and immediate concerns of the people, you cannot introduce subjects like Rafale or Vyapam. Ram Mandir, reservation, the SC/ST Atrocities Act are also non-issues. One tries to sell them the idea of self-reliance through extra hand-pumps and promises to reduce their paperwork-related burdens,” says a candidate who did not wish to be identified.

Congress’s Kalavati Bhuria holds a public meeting in Vikram Chowk. The area is surrounded by villages from all sides, farmers are busy spraying insecticides in the fields around.

“What did the Shivraj government give you? They made processes more complicated through this digitisation drive. When people in homes ask the man who has been out all day whether he’s brought back groceries, he finds only paper in his bundle.”

She goes on to talk to a group of 40 or so villagers about the development works in their area. “Has any new road been constructed in your area, do teachers visit your schools? This government has not just not given anything to you, it has also withdrawn the facilities that we used to offer to you,” she adds.

Alirajpur has one of the highest ratios of malnutritioned children in the country. According to a survey conducted by National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad, 54.6 % of children in the district were found to be malnourished — the highest in the state.

However, malnutrition is not an election issue in the district. Neither is the issue of rampant child-trafficking in which a BJP worker was alleged to be involved. Nor the seasonal migration of men from Alirajpur to neighbouring Gujarat in search of jobs.

Please click here to read more., 25 November, 2018,

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