Vijay films Shazia Ilmi’s team. Picture by Prem Singh
Mukesh Kumar is the Election Commission’s third eye. Nothing escapes his camera as candidates drive through their constituencies.
“They always look back to see what I am filming,” laughs the 32-year-old who, when not recording campaigns, shoots wedding videos.
Last month, assigned the job of following the BJP candidate from Ghaziabad, V.K. Singh, Kumar reached the former army chief’s first halt, Tela village in Loni district, barely an hour’s drive from the border with Delhi, at 10 sharp.
Singh arrived four hours late and stayed for 20 minutes.
Kumar, among 70-odd photographers tasked with recording the campaign in Ghaziabad, waited. His duty with Singh was from 10am to 6pm, not a minute longer.
“Every morning we report to the DM’s office and check out the duty rosters. We can be assigned any candidate from morning till evening. We follow the candidate through his campaign trail. My job is to record the campaign and submit the CD at the DM’s office in the evening,” said Kumar, who gets Rs 1,200 for a day’s work, plus the cost of the tape.
His report — the CD — contains the candidate’s daylong speeches, every halt, every gesture, every wrong turn. The photographers are on duty in shifts; when Kumar leaves at 6pm, another is slotted by the DM’s office to take over.
“V.K. Singh arrived late, but he has time only till 6pm. He has got permission from 10am to 6pm, so he cannot exceed that. The observer will make notes and I will record every stop he makes after the time due to him,” Kumar said.
Each candidate in a constituency has to apply for permission from the DM’s office with the name of the areas he or she wants to visit along with a specific time frame. This is to avoid crowding by multiple candidates at the same spot at the same time.
On March 20, while AAP candidate Shazia Ilmi and party leader Manish Sisodia attended a public gathering at the Ramlila Ground at Loni — a minority-dominated area with a substantial Hindu population in villages on the outskirts — BJP candidate Singh visited the Hindu-majority villages.
AAP and BJP workers confronted each other at Alipur village where they shouted slogans.
Days later, Ilmi and Singh were again found campaigning in the same area in Dhaulana. While Singh inaugurated his local election office, Ilmi campaigned in nearby areas.
District officials told The Telegraph they were trying to ensure that the candidates’ campaign trails did not clash. Video-recording, they said, helps them correct mistakes in allotments and granting permissions.
“According to the new directions from the Election Commission, we have tried to keep them separate, but it’s not easy,” said a senior official in the district administration.
Kumar’s footage, however, was keeping a hawk eye on the candidates.
Like Kumar, another cameraperson kept his eyes glued to Ilmi, who was to cover at least 12 villages and a section of urban Ghaziabad from 9am to 6pm. She was reprimanded at least five times by the observer present for overstaying at her halts.
“We keep telling them to move on but they don’t listen,” said the observer, who didn’t want to be named.
Vijay, the photographer, recorded every “illegal” halt Ilmi made. “She is making these stops which she hasn’t taken permission for at this time. By now, she should have crossed these areas. I am getting repeated calls from the DM’s office,” he said.
Sources in the poll panel said this was not the first time election campaigns were being video-recorded in sensitive constituencies but such extensive coverage has been rare.
While neither the DM’s office, nor Kumar could say if any errant candidate had been hauled up by the Election Commission courtesy the footage shot, the cameras were keeping candidates on their toes.
“In 2009 and earlier elections, you could see alcohol being passed around and money being given during campaigns. Now, all that has stopped, at least here,” Kumar said. “I would like to believe it is because we, with our cameras, don’t let anything slip.”
Does he have any complaints? Only the unending “wait” for the politician.
LALCHAND ARYA, a retired subedar, is narrating a story at Mohammadpur-Ahir village, which falls in the Gurgaon Lok Sabha seat. Arya is associated with Ramdev’s Patanjali yoga institute and claims
he is working for nation-building by campaigning for Narendra Modi.
“Narendra Modi is no ordinary human being. As a 10-year-old child,
Modi swam in a pond full
of crocodiles and fetched
a flower he offered to the goddess in the temple near the pond. Just make him
the Prime Minister and see how he will liberate you.”
Arya’s story appeared
to have been borrowed
from a comic series titled
Bal Narendra that tells
about little Modi.
In the comic series, Narendra jumps into a
pond full of crocodiles
to fetch a ball. He returns
with the ball and a baby crocodile. When his mother sees the baby crocodile, she explains to him the pangs
of a mother separated from her child. Moved by his mother’s advice, Narendra returns the baby crocodile
to the pond.