Photojournalist Kulwant Roy’s (1914-1984) extensive documentation of his times, notably of the leaders of the freedom struggle such as Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Nehru, has belatedly received the recognition that is its due, thanks to the efforts of Aditya Arya, a photographer himself. Shortly before his death in 1984, Roy bequeathed his life’s work to Arya.
Arya is almost certain that this photo was taken in the walled city area of Old Delhi during the third general election of 1962. He points out that it is a good example of the unique value of photographs as historical records—one can see how the burka worn by women in Delhi has evolved since then. The polling officer’s attire, says Arya, tells us about the solemnity and respect accorded to the electoral process in the early years of the Indian republic.
Chennai, Tamil Nadu, 1984
During the 1984 general election, held shortly after Indira Gandhi’s assassination, there was a huge sympathy wave for Rajiv Gandhi and he led the Congress party to an unprecedented landslide victory. Emotions, says Rai, play a big role in elections in India. He recalls how, at the time, sympathies were with Rajiv, who had just lost his mother and who was seen as honest. The jeep in this image is typically festooned with posters, cut-outs, flags and loudspeakers.
Aizawl, Mizoram, 1987
Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi are campaigning for Lalthanhawla (standing with Sonia), who had stepped down as chief minister in 1986 as part of the Mizoram peace accord. Bartholomew remembers Rajiv driving around the state in a jeep that had been airlifted from Delhi. The jeep in this picture is a different one though.
This is a scene at the Dangal Maidan or wrestlers’ ground in front of Jama Masjid in Delhi right after an election rally, when Rahman was walking around to capture the mood. Rahman feels that the photo has to be seen in the context of the attitude of the Muslim community towards Narasimha Rao after the demolition of Babri Masjid. He was, says Rahman, widely seen as having been indirectly involved in the demolition.
Karimnagar, Andhra Pradesh, 2004
To Panjiar this photo speaks volumes about the distance between the people and their leaders. The helicopter is ferrying Sonia Gandhi, who had just addressed this rally, but, says Panjiar, it could be any politician from any party in any part of the country. While the rally had been a celebratory one, he chooses to interpret the image as a sad commentary on the state of Indian politics.