Agra: As campaigning for the first phase of the 7-phased Uttar Pradesh assembly elections gains momentum, many old-timers and other locals in the City of the Taj rue the absence of the cacophony associated with the earlier electoral battles.
"Maza nahin aaya iss baar (no enjoyment this time)," is the refrain of many who are missing the chaotic din of the keenly fought elections of olden times.
They gripe that strict restrictions, including on the poll expenditure, imposed by the Election Commission has robbed the whole process of electioneering of its frenzied excitement, which was witnessed earlier not only among men but also women and children.
"No longer do you see large groups of people in the streets shouting catchy slogans like 'Gali gali mein shor hai, ... chor hai' or 'Jeetega bhai jeetega, candidate hamara jeetega' and so on. The ban on loudspeakers has certainly reduced the poll decibel level," says senior citizen Surendra Sharma.
Gone are the tinsel and party flags that seemed to overwhelm the passers-by in streets earlier on during elections.
Many locals were unanimous about the conspicuous absence of high-voltage, surcharged campaigning that helped lift the spirits of the masses, even if it was for a few weeks and months only.
"Elections in India are a 'mahotsava' (grand festival); a kind of festival coming every five years. But this time, there is no colour, no creativity in slogans, catchy slogans on walls, or posters.
"Many people who used to find seasonal jobs due to elections are sorely disappointed. Election stationery remains unsold; many shopkeepers in Lohar Gali and other parts of the city, who stock party stickers, badges and buntings etc have suffered losses," said Hari Mohan of Belan Ganj, a stronghold of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Locals pointed out that the Election Commission's strict enforcement of the Model Code of Conduct and other guidelines pertaining to elections had virtually terrorised the election managers of various political parties.
The observers, camping in the city, have been quite alert and called for records and issued stern warnings to erring candidates and their supporters.
Fear lurks just below the surface, as scores of companies of central paramilitary forces have been staging flag marches and checking vehicles without notice.
The Uttar Pradesh Police does not have much of a say; even the district officials are alarmed and panicky since many have been transferred as punishment for laxity in performance of duty.
Vinay Paliwal, who was an activist of the erstwhile Janata Party, said that elections and campaigns provide an opportunity to sensitise and educate the masses politically, which is necessary for strengthening democratic processes.
"We should have gone step by step in bringing about electoral reforms, rather than going the whole hog like at present. It's so abrupt and sudden. The most objectionable part is the long-staggered election process. This has halted all developmental work for two crucial months. The government servants are not working. Everyone is waiting for the poll results. This is too much."
The people point to the absence of folk singers to attract the crowds, as was the case with elections in the past. They also complain about the missing political parodies or folk songs broadcast through blaring loudspeakers that kept people entertained during the electoral hullabaloo.
"Artistes and wall painters have lost an opportunity to use their talents and earn some money. Little wonder, there is so little interest in elections this time," they say morosely.