The first phase of elections is still about 4 weeks far. In Bengal with Congress declaring its candidate list ( finally !) , campaign of the four major national parties are set to start in full force. Still now, public meetings are not taking place as board exams are going on. Once those huge rallies start, the festive mood prevailing during elections will set in.
But what is worrying the political parties and Election Commission is the weather condition. Already in March, mercury has touched 30. It is safe to assume that it will steadily go up along with humidity once it gets to April and May. Thus worried of low participation from voters, E.C has started awareness campaigns through various media outlets. But as we know nothing attracts people like freebies do!! Give vote, take discount is an easy made voter gratification scheme particularly popular in Western countries. In America for instance, various companies pay for gas to go for voting. Some give free pizza. From Star Bucks to Ben and Jerry to Uber all is part of the bandwagon. An organisation called Vote and Vax even promised to get kids vaccinated while parents stand in the line!! Now it seems that the trend is catching up in India too. Not only in big cities and fancy restaurants, this is being emulated in small towns in heartland of Bengal. And like everything desi, there is sarkari touch in it. In a unique collaboration, private shop owners and retail chains are being encouraged to give discounts by district level poll officials. To project a responsible image various malls have also got on board to give discounts to those who will get inked.
In Bardhaman, 100 kilometres away from state capital Kolkata, this unique initiative is being taken. Once a CPIM stronghold, home to the likes of Nirupam Sen, it has now changed loyalties. The district is trying to set an example which can ideally be emulated by other districts of the state and the country. Here, big retail malls have decided to give special discounts for those who have voted. Not only that, according to district polling officials discounts will also be available for people showing their voter’s id card. This is particularly been done to grab attention of the young voters. In the beginning, this discount will be available only in the city of Durgapur. Gradually administration is trying to extend this facility to other parts of the district. Twice before election and twice after that, special discount offer can be used by electorates according to sources in the local administration.
The initiative of district election commission officials have got a thumbs up from state election commissioner. The local businessmen are happy too, to be part of a social initiative. They hope to reap the goodwill this gesture will generate. But there is certain amount of trepidation among small and medium sized businessman. According to them, the margins are not that big enough to give huge (8 to 10 per cent) discounts. The local traders’ organisation has decided to mediate in the matter so that more businessmen are on board and voters from all parts of the district can avail this facility.
Bardhaman goes to polls on 30th April and 7th May. Accordingly, people who have voted will be eligible for special discount on 1st and 2nd May and on the 7th and 8th respectively. Many believe as we go near the polls, lot of businesses in Kolkata also will offer these kinds of freebies. Election is ultimately one big carnival, and freebies to banta hain !!!