Lucknow: The T N Seshan ghost seems to be haunting Uttar Pradesh after a lull of many years. Usually poll time sets the entire state abuzz with colourful election activity but campaigning is turning out to be a rather quiet affair this time. The official machinery is all geared up to enable the state's 12 crore voters to elect 403 legislators for a giant sized assembly, but there is unusual silence on the streets, thoroughfares and highways.
Be it the politically vibrant areas in and around Varanasi, Gorakhpur and Allahabad in eastern Uttar Pradesh, or the rough and rustic western towns of Meerut, Bulandshahr, Budaun and Baghpat, or the badlands of Etawah, Mainpuri, Etah or Farrukhabad in central Uttar Pradesh, or poverty-ridden Bundelkhand or communally sensitive districts, the scene is no different anywhere.
It is hard to believe that the seven-phased elections from Feb 8 are barely a fortnight away. Nor do you see posters, banners, buntings, flags or even stickers or badges. Even ads in newspapers are limited. "One wonders how a contestant is expected to tell his electorate that he or she is in the fray," remarked analyst Arvind Mohan.
Even loudspeakers have vanished from the scene. Gone are the days when loudspeakers would blare from every lamppost and tree and 'netas' would be screaming their lungs out to deafen the cries of rivals. The common refrain is: "It is very difficult to choose from among candidates, specially independents, because one is just not clear about those in the fray."
Even senior leaders of leading parties have no choice but to go canvassing door-to-door. "Yes, I am going to every voter's house," confessed former state Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief Kalraj Misra who is contesting from Lucknow's North constituency.
State Congress president Rita Bahuguna Joshi, the nominee from Lucknow Cantonment, also speaks in the same tone. "I am busy covering every lane and bylane, knocking on every door to seek people's support, there is no choice."
"The fundamental freedom usually available in all democratic elections is completely missing in this election. It is rather unfair to disallow even a small flag or a sticker on a vehicle," is the common complaint of leaders and ordinary workers of all parties.
While stringent measures to nip everything that is loud and extravagant in an election are reminiscent of the Seshan days, when the Election Commission showed its teeth for the first time, the present poll panel chief S.Y. Quraishi seems to have gone a step ahead.
If anyone is found carrying anything more than a few thousand rupees in cash, the money is seized on the suspicion that it is meant for buying off voters, complain some.
If there are several liquor bottles in your luggage boot, you are booked for transporting liquor for distribution to woo voters, they say. Firearms - licenced or unlicenced - are seized on the apprehension that they could be used to intimidate voters.
More than anything else, what has become a genuine problem, particularly for independent nominees is the complete ban on posters, banners, buntings and badges.
"In the past, we could go around distributing small badges to send word around that one was in the electoral fray, but what does an independent do now?" asks scientist-turned-independent candidate Shatrughan Pandey, who is in the fray in Lucknow Cantt.
"Political parties have other ways to project their candidates, but an independent with modest means cannot do beyond badges or small posters," he lamented.