Last week at the AAS in Philly, I had an interesting discussion of votebank politics in India and the importance of spatial variation. My contention was that most politics are local, and that electoral dynamics such as Muslim votebanks (i.e. Muslims voting for certain parties) and the extent of ethnic coordination (i.e. Muslims voting for Muslim candidates) depend on largely local factors. Some people disagreed, many agreed - but it remained a gut feeling. Until, on the flight back, I got an idea how to prove my point. This brief post thus explains at which level votebanks form and operate in India (well, in one instance at least)...

Khamosh is an Urdu term for silence and taciturnity. Yesterday, Lucknow went to the polls for the ongoing UP state elections - and while the papers today report a record turnout of 53% in my constituency (Lucknow central), that is exactly what the elections felt like around here: they were a silent and tacit affair, both audibly and visibly (as the picture of an otherwise busy intersection demonstrates, taken yesterday). Given the image of UP politics as the core of Indian democracy - vibrant, rowdy, and exorbitant - this is really surprising. What happened? This post tries to give a first, unfiltered response.

On election day itself, the answer is simple: nothing much happened, really. Yes, people went to their polling booth, politicians took a break, police officers enjoyed the sun, children let their kites fly high - and scholars like me were busy being puzzled. More puzzling than the khamosh polling day were, however, the silent weeks ahead. Of course, the media was full of buzz, with all the indecisive factors in this election: will Mayawati stay in office? Most likely not. Will the Samajwadi Party return or fade away forever? Most likely it will return. Is there a Rahul Gandhi factor? Yes. What is it? No idea. Similarly: is there a Anna Hazare factor? Yes. What is it? Nobody knows. And on and on and on...

Regular readers of my blog will have noted my fascination with character-faced animals. Usually it's goats, but I am equally fond of water buffaloes. I was therefore very pleased when the Times of India put one magnificient exemplar on their "dance of democracy" pages yesterday, where they cover the upcoming state elections in Uttar Pradesh. Apparently, a certain Dinesh Yadav, candidate from Bakshi ka Talab constituency, went riding on the back of his favourite water buffalo to announce his candidacy do the general public (the full article, for those sharing my fondness of buffaloes, is here).

Once I think about it: Indian newspapers are full of such stories (though it's not always buffaloes). But here is the thing: I was not surprised in the slightest. An electioneering politician on top of a buffalo? But of course - what do you expect? It felt completely normal. Obviously, I have gotten used to the beasts over the last couple of months. As I got used to many other things: clerics screaming their voice out of their head, "Muslim parties" allying with the BJP, restaurants offering all kind of fare but nothing from their menu, and of course bureaucrats honking the soul out of their cars. You see: I even got used to the thought that cars have souls! Have I come to expect the unexpected a little too much? And would that be good or bad in terms of an epistemology of fieldwork?

In the interest of transparency and accountability, I want to start today's blog with a confession. A good week ago, I broke the model code of conduct for the upcoming assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh. I did so for my own petty financial benefit, and in cooperation with - in fact instigated by - an assistant manager of a large private-sector bank. Travelling in a humble three-wheeled conveyance to avoid being searched by one of the many police teams on election deputation (who tend to concentrate on wannabe politicians' window-tainted, over-speeding, and seriously-honk-endowed SUVs), I transported a large amount of cash along the width and breadth of Lucknow - without enclosing the officially required, duly signed, stamped, and authorized authorization from the authorities. To my defence, I can say no more than that I intended to use said cash as the minimum required opening balance for my domestic savings account. I know this might sound like a lame excuse, though. The only option left to me now is to at least put this episode to good use ex post - by reflecting upon the complexities of corruption in today's blog. Food for thought: