With five states Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Puducherry, Assam and West Bengal going for elections for assemblies over the month of April and beyond, two issues clearly stand out as key challenges for India, political corruption and governance. Ironically while the voter may cast for change he may find the same politically corrupt class back in power but in different Party colours. The choice for the common man therefore appears to be so limited that victory may be decided by the voter choosing between two shades of black, that is a party and leaders who are less corrupt than another rather than black and white or even grey and white. A look at the present scenario through the electoral lens may be worthwhile.
For the ruling Congress led alliance in the Centre the large number of corruption cases popularly known as scams, such as the 2G Spectrum scam, Common Wealth Games-2010 scam, Adarsh Housing Scam, Money laundering and S-band spectrum scam have come at a very wrong time even though not much has come out of the Parliament debates despite launching of a Joint Parliamentary Committee. Recent allegations revealed in Wikileaks dispatches from US Embassy in New Delhi of cash being paid to certain Members of Parliament for vote on the nuclear bill has added to the discomfiture of the Government as well as the Congress Party.
The opposition is also, “cashing on,” this loss of image of the Congress and its alliance partners as the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in key states as Tamil Nadu where it has been worse hit with the former Telecom Minister A. Raja and the 2G scam traced to connections with the ruling Karunanidhi family. Charge sheeting of Karunanidhi’s daughter Kanimozi by the Central Bureau of Investigations, may be big blow to the old DMK patriarch.
Ironically the Tamil Nadu voter is traditionally, “bought over,” by both the main parties, the DMK and the AIADMK. Today the latter led by Ms Jayalalitha is seen cleaner than the incumbent Karunanidhi government and thus they may ditch him even if they accept, “cash,” by the DMK. Monetary allurements are against electoral rules and the election commission has deployed many gendarme’s for tracing wrong doings, however it appears that there is unlikely to be any apprehensions and the race for dishing out notes by political parties in Tamil Nadu may continue. Only this time around it is believed that the voters may after accepting allurements vote with their minds and not just the heart.
In Assam the Prime Minister Dr Man Mohan Singh campaigned on 2 April and is banking on peace brought about during the incumbent Congress government’s rule in the state through marginalization of the militancy and opening peace talks with the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA). Here again the opposition’s main card is corruption of the government and civil society groups are attempting to raise awareness of the electorate without taking any sides thereby enabling the voter the right to make their own judgment.
In West Bengal, there is a wave against the Left Front which has had three decades in power which many see as a dark period for the State though this could be disputed. The alternative is the Trinamool Congress whose mercurial leader Mamta Banerjee has adopted a punishing schedule for campaigning. Grape vine has it that Mamta will win handsomely but the Left Front is seen to be making lost ground ironically as here the shoe of corruption is on the other foot. The Trinamool Congress which won the elections to corporations and panchayats in the state recently has already earned a bad name for corruption in these local bodies. So here again the voter choices may be limited.
India is professed to have an independent Election Commission which is initiating many measures to ensure that elections are free and fair. A large number of observers and micro-observers to ensure that cash is not distributed at least openly and also monitor ongoing schemes by the State government for misuse to lure voting have been introduced.
Another menace is, “paid news,” which came to the fore in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. How the media conduct themselves this time, and how the Election Commission goes about rooting out this shameful corruption in journalism and democratic process will be watched with keen interest. Major political parties such as the DMK, AIADMK and the Congress have formed their own teams to monitor violations in the election code. However it is normally seen that the parties may compromise on this issue tolerating indulgence.
With governance linked to delivery of services, prevalence of the corrupt political-bureaucrat-mafia nexus has placed the common man with limited choices. Many measures such as declaration of assets by candidates and right to information have been taken these have not had seminal effect. There are some heartening voices of civil society organizations which are highlighting these issues to the electorate. However they are few and far between and are overwhelmed by the power and spread of political machinery aided by the State.
As of now thus while overcoming political corruption and poor governance remains the key agenda for India’s growth in the decade ahead, there is no light at the end of the tunnel.