A R Arundev, 22, Election Videographer
A R Arundev’s bulky video camera has a different use today. Not recording a wedding function, as he would usually do, but tracking violations by candidates ahead of the general elections. Arundev sits on the rear seat of a government SUV with the sticker ‘Election Urgent’, touring Nadapuram area in Vatakara, a Lok Sabha constituency in Kerala.
Along with three officials of the Election Commission, and a police official, Arundev looks out of the window for any poster or billboard of a political candidate in a public space. If they spot any, he gets out and wields his Sony DCR-VX 2200 camcorder and takes a video.
Arundev is among the hundreds of photographers the EC has deputed to record any violation of the model code of conduct. While some cameramen are required to cover rallies, others like Arundev record publicity material occupying public spaces such as poles or walls.
Arundev, a 22-year-old whose father is an autorickshaw driver, hopes to one day become a junior government clerk and is attending coaching classes for the exam.
The EC assignment, he feels, is the next best thing.
It was a few years ago that he began assisting wedding videographers, before venturing out on his own. Besides making wedding videos, he completed a course in graphic designing. Two weeks ago, a videographer called him to say he was outsourcing the EC assignment to him. Arundev says he doesn’t mind missing his coaching classes for the job.
“I am thrilled. Travelling with government officials, under the control of the powerful EC, I feel I have become a government employee, at least for a few weeks,’’ he says.
As an EC cameraman, his day starts at 10 am. On Friday, the three EC team members, a police officer and Arundev arrange to meet at Kallachi town in Nadapuram. Arundev is the first to arrive. The time is fixed early in the morning or a day earlier, he says.
By 10.15 am, all the members are at Kallachi and leave together in a government SUV. Scouting for election posters in public places, the squad moves along a narrow road. “We sometimes get prior information about posters or billboards on public walls or electric posts.
Political parties complain to the police or the returning officer about rival campaign materials. The public may also complain. The police hand over the complaints to the respective squads. Otherwise, the squad travels through a particular route, looking for election materials that disfigure public places,’’ says team leader Satheesh P.
At Kallumala junction, they spot a poster of Congress candidate Mullappally Ramachandran. They get off the car, and Arundev zooms his camera on the electric post on which the poster is pasted. One of the team members takes off the poster and tears it. He then directs Arundev to click a picture of the post without the poster. A team member takes a close look at the damaged poster, and then jots down the details in a diary.
Less than a hundred metres away, a billboard of the Congress candidate, erected by its ally Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), overlooks passersbys. They get off again. Arundev’s camera starts recording again while police officer Lithish Sreedhar goes to a nearby house. He asks the owner whether he is a Congress worker or sympathiser, and tells him to remove the billboard soon as election observers are on the move.
The next stop is Kuitheri, known for clashes between CPM and IUML workers. The junction is splashed with posters and banners soliciting votes for the Congress candidate. The team gets off the jeep, Arundev with his camera perched on his shoulder.
A group of men, apprehending that the team is there to remove the publicity materials, walks towards Arundev. Satheesh stops them and says, “If you do not remove them, we will do so and the cost will be charged to the candidate.” The men don’t budge. The team cuts the festoons and posters, and takes them along.
It is such tense situations that Arundev “enjoys” being a part of. “In trouble-prone areas, we remove the campaign materials fast, before the people gather. In some places, I have seen women laughing at the squad.’’
He looks forward to more such “adventures”. “As the campaign picks momentum, political leaders may prevent us from removing the posters,” he says.
By evening, the team has removed 93 posters, after touring the constituency. “At the end of the day, we burn the materials on the premises of the village office (the lowest revenue office in Kerala),’’ says Satheesh.
Arundev gets Rs 800 a day for the work. “So far, I have made a two-and-a-half hour-long recording. The cassette will be delivered to the EC after the campaign ends,’’ he says.