|Campaigning in the five states have been boisterous and colourful to say the least [Reuters]
There is never a dull moment in Indian democracy. Legislative elections in five states are proving to be no different.
Among the states up for grabs is Uttar Pradesh – the country's most populous state. The way it votes would possibly throw light on how the whole of India might vote in little over two years when general elections are held.
Voting in the four other comparatively smaller states is of no less significance.
The current elections are billed as a mini-referendum on the federal government headed by the Congress party. Besieged by a raft of scandals and slipshod governance, the party is desperate for a good showing to shore up its sagging fortunes.
Its opponents – ranging from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to a slew of regional outfits – hope to turn the tables on the Congress and erode its support base further.
With stakes incredibly high, the political slugfest has grown intense. Missiles in the form of shoes are being hurled at rivals. People attired in black are being shooed away from a leader’s rally to avoid 'black- flag' demonstrations. And cow urine is being promised by a party as a sure-fire cure to illness.
From sublime to surreal, almost everything is on show. Here is a sampling of the sights and sounds that are turning the elections into a veritable spectacle.
Cow urine for electoral health!
Political parties are in a race to offer freebies to lure voters.
Promises being made range from computer tablets to a regular caste quota in jobs, and the BJP has offered to gift cows to the poor!
|Political parties are offering a host of freebies to lure voters [GALLO/GETTY]
As part of its "holy cow" project, the party manifesto says it will encourage the production of filtered gow-mutra (cow urine) if it is voted back to power.
The party claims filtered cow urine helps cure various diseases such as cancer, eye and ear diseases.
In another BJP ruled state, the Cow Protection and Conservation Board had this to say about the revered cow: "There are only two ways to remain insulated from nuclear radiation, and one of them is application of cow dung."
In a traditional Hindu society, cow is revered as mother and slaughter of this holy animal is banned in most Indian states.
The BJP suspects the election dates are not aligned with the right stars.
Many astrologically-inclined partymen feel that the BJP would have performed better had the polls coincided with the right planetary positions.
They believe the party's guiding planet Jupiter has been on the ascendant since December 2011 and would peak around April-May. But India's election commission has been less than accommodating and the poll itinerary is such that elections in all five states would be over by March.
But one thing is clear, if the BJP doesn’t do well in the elections, they will certainly blame the stars!
It’s all in the family
Dynastic politics, it seems, has become the most salient feature of Indian democracy, and nearly all political parties are ridden with it.
Rahul Gandhi, a scion of the Gandhi family - India's most famous political lineage - is the leading campaigner for his Congress party in Uttar Pradesh.
A good showing in India's most populous state would raise his standing and cement his place as a future prime minister. His father, grandmother and great-grandfather were all prime ministers and many expect the young Gandhi to step into their shoes sooner than later.
Leaders of other political parties are not lagging behind in promoting their own legacy.
It is Akhilesh Yadav, the son of Mulayam Singh Yadav, a former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, who is leading the Samajwadi party's efforts to wrest back power in the state. He is assisted by his uncles, Shivpal and Ram Gopal.
Ajit Singh, a federal minister, is son of former Prime Minister Choudhury Charan Singh, and is relying on his son Jayant Singh to lead his party’s campaign in Uttar Pradesh.
In the state of Punjab as well, it is all in the family. The ruling Akali Dal is led by an ageing chief minister, Prakash Singh Badal, and his deputy chief minister-son, Sukhbir.
It is battling a dissident group led by Manpreet Badal, Sukhbir's estranged cousin, and a resurgent Congress, led by Captain Amarinder Singh. The latter's wife, Purneet Kaur, is a federal minister, and their son Raninder Singh is in the electoral fray.
The pet project of Mayawati, the incumbent chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, had been to build a sprawling park in the outskirts of Delhi resplendent with statues of herself and elephants, her party symbol.
|The covering of elephant statues with polythene apparently cost more than $200,000 [GALLO/GETTY]
But lest the mammoth statues influence the voters, the election commission ordered that the sculptures be draped ahead of the elections to the state.
The move provoked caustic comments from Mayawati's partymen, who wondered whether the election commission would also try and cover up all cycles, clocks and the rising sun - symbols of other parties.
The statues that Mayawati built cost the state treasury an estimated $120m. The cost of covering them with pink polythene apparently topped more than $200,000.
Crash course in electoral politics
If you think tricks of the trade can be learnt by experience then you need to check your facts. Career Point, a school in India, now offers a crash course in politics.
So, if you are an aspiring politician, the school has devised a seven-day crash course on what it calls 'politricks'.
This school for political upstarts is the brainchild of Dinesh Dixit from the city of Taj Mahal, Agra.
Along with the rules and laws it also trains aspiring leaders how to circumvent and manipulate electoral laws to their advantage.
Students are also taught the dirty little tricks of crowd management and how and when to exploit the media for publicity purposes.
In an era of humongous election expenses, a crash course for just Rs 12,000 [about $250] sure sounds a win-win option.
Career Point started as a training centre for those preparing to join India’s bureaucracy, and from grooming hopeful bureaucrats to future leaders, it seems to be a natural transition for the school.
Biting the election bullet
Indian politicians are known for making tall promises to the electorate but what Indrajit Saroj, the social welfare minister of Uttar Pradesh, promised takes the cake.
He reportedly promised "distribution of gun licences". Gun licences would be distributed like sweets, he is reported to have said during one of his poll campaigns.
Accounting for more than one-third of the crimes in the country, Uttar Pradesh is already a criminals' haven. In 2010 alone, according to a government report, the state accounted for 1,470 gunshot murders.
The minister obviously hopes that his election promise would raise his winning chances. What if crime rises further as a result?
Compiled by Anmol Saxena in New Delhi and Saif Khalid in Doha.