I have covered several elections by now, some I have enjoyed, most I have enjoyed, most I have found to be a bore.
In the fight between V.K. Krishna Menon and Acharya Kripalani for the North East Bombay constituency. I covered Menon, another reporter was assigned to Kripalani. It was known as the fight of the giants: a vote for Menon was a vote for Nehru, a vote for Kripalani was a vote against Nehru. Both were hardly contenders, fluent in their speech, acerbic, tempermental. They were rude to each other and rude to reporters.
At one meeting, Menon claimed that he could beat Kripalani in any contest, including a beauty contest. And he would invariably refer to reporters as ignorant, members of the jute press (since the newspaper proprietors were all owners of jute mills in Calcutta). He would point to the reporters and say: “You don’t take down all this, you won’t understand it.”
There was no election commission, at least no election commission with Mr. Seshan, but the parties were quite conscious of their rights. Air-India had put up a large hoarding at Kemp’s Corner showing the two at starting blocks for a sprint event. The copy said: “Both can run but only one can win.” The Congress objected because Menon was shown in red shorts, red being the colour of communists which the party was eager to clarify he was not.
I also once covered a contest between S.K. Patil and George Fernandes for the South Bombay constituency. Nobody gave Fernandes a chance. Patil was the uncrowned king of Bombay, its mayor for three years running, the man who controlled all the money in Bombay. He had to make a single call to any industrialist and he would have Rs. 10 lakhs for the Congress funds on his table. And, at that time, 10 lakhs was equal to 10 crores. Well, 8 crores. As thing turned out, Patil was defeated and George Fernandes became George The Giant Killer.
There were other interesting individuals who contested the elections. General K.M. Cariappa was set up by some nasty and mischievous people. He addressed election meetings in his crisp army Hindustani, distributed sweets to slum children and tidied their hair with a comb he carried with him. I do now know whether he lost him deposit. Possibly, he did.
And Naval Tata, scion of the Tata family, once dared to contest against the ugly politicians. He contested as an independent, but a whole lot of Congress volunteers decided to work for him and sabotaged his campaign. ‘Blitz’ carried a Russy Karanjia-inspired headline: Telcome Tata.
But the elections most remembered were at the end of the Emergency. Everybody joined the fray and suddenly and against all forecasts Indira Gandhi and the Congress lost. That was the time when I felt it was worth being a reporter and covering the elections.