Mumbai on Thursday spared itself a repeat of the 2009 embarrassment and logged a 53 per cent voter turnout by 6pm, up by 12 percentage points from last time.
In the popular public spaces, everyone was in a self-congratulatory mood. On the seaside promenades of suburban Bandra’s Carter Road and Bandra Bandstand — where hi-fliers walk briskly or practise tai chi in the evenings, they were clinking glasses of wheat germ juice from a popular local vendor.
“It’s like we all passed an exam. May 16 may be result day for the candidates but our report cards came this evening,” said Usha Madhok, former film star Dev Anand’s sister.
“We are partying to celebrate, and all the jokes are about the Bollywood humbugs who didn’t vote.”
Usha and her friends practise yoga by the promenade on most evenings and stay back for some chitchat. Most of their ridicule was aimed at Salman Khan and Vivek Oberoi, former boyfriends of Aishwarya Rai who had been campaigning these elections and exhorting people to vote but skipped the booths on Thursday.
The Dabangg star was in Poland to shoot for his next release, Kick. Vivek was in Bangalore with mother-in-law Nandini Alva, who is contesting as a Janata Dal (Secular) candidate.
“Aishwarya ho ya Modi, Salman ka pyar hai Vivek ka pyar. Aur jab Sallu ho jaye bore, toh Vivek bhi na dekhe us ore,” Usha said to titters from her friends.
A rough translation: Whether it’s Aishwarya or Narendra Modi, Salman’s love is Vivek’s love too. And when Sallu gets bored, Vivek too turns his face away.
Both Salman and Vivek have attended Modi’s rallies. While Salman has stopped short of directly endorsing him with some smart wordplay, Vivek has been addressing news conferences in Modi’s support.
They were not the only Bollywood truants, though. Anupam Kher, Javed Akhtar and Shabana Azmi, who so often speak on the state of Indian democracy, preferred attending the International Indian Film Academy Awards in the US over getting their fingernails inked in Mumbai.
Akhtar is a member and Shabana a former member of the Rajya Sabha. Anupam’s wife Kirron is BJP candidate from Chandigarh.
Among the other Bollywood notables who did not vote were Anil Kapoor, Shahid Kapoor, Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor.
Usha, 76, said she had seen enthusiasm for voting before, “especially in the elections after the Emergency and the one after Mrs (Indira) Gandhi’s death”.
“I observed no such explicit urge for voting among people this time and yet, at the end of the day, we found that we had not embarrassed ourselves again,” she said.
The mood was celebratory on the Worli Seaface promenade and at Marine Drive too. But it was sombre at Advent, a posh apartment block on Cuffe Parade: 20 residents had been unable to find their names on the electoral rolls.
One of them was Advent’s most famous resident, lawyer Ram Jethmalani, who had flown down from Delhi to vote in Mumbai. “He was furious and threw a fit at the voting centre,” said a poll official at Sachivalaya Gymkhana in Nariman Point.
A senior Election Commission official said that had Jethmalani taken a leaf out of actor Rahul Bose’s book, he could have avoided the disappointment.
“Rahul had looked up the voters’ list on the poll panel website a few days ago. After failing to find his name, he contacted us immediately and we were able to correct the mistake. The voter needs to be aware and not leave it till the last minute,” the official said.
Senior journalist Kumar Ketkar ascribed the higher turnout to three factors: “a huge voter mobilisation by the BJP and the RSS; the AAP buzz that brought in 3 to 4 per cent more voters; and the advertising overkill by the BJP for Modi creating a backlash of sorts”.
“It’s not just Muslims who have been put off, the ad overdose has created some sort of dissonance among a large segment of the majority community too,” he said.
Sharad Kumar, Maharashtra coordinator for Election Watch, a wing of the Association for Democratic Reforms, thanked the media coverage and “various campaigns by big brands to make Mumbaikars vote” for the high turnout.
But state Aam Aadmi Party secretary Preeti Sharma Menon was “perturbed” by the evening spike in voting after a lethargic morning and afternoon, suspecting some political party or the other had herded voters to the booths.
“We do not have that kind of bandwidth and resources. We have a limited number of volunteers,” she said.
Asked why Mumbai still lagged substantially behind Delhi’s 65 per cent turnout, she said: “Delhi generally has a more politically aware and involved voter.”
Music director Vishal Dadlani, who promoted Operation Black Dot, an awareness programme to improve voter registration, said: “I’m happy to see a 12 per cent jump but it is still well below Delhi and Bangalore.”
In the afternoon, the leader of the Opposition in the Maharashtra upper House, the BJP’s Vinod Tawde, had said: “Please wait till 6pm; I’m sure the turnout would cross 50 per cent.”
Speaking later, he said: “Like I said, Mumbai is averaging 53 per cent. This additional voting is because of the Modi wave and will help the NDA.”
Congress Union minister Milind Deora attributed the turnout to “more awareness among voters”.