India's democracy and the soundness of its democratic institutions has been once again validated by the electoral verdict given by the people of Bihar in end-November 2005. This was the second election foisted on the people of Bihar within six months due to the political machinations of the ruling party in New Delhi, the Congress Party, to perpetuate the 15-year rule of its regional ally, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and which props the Congress at the Centre.
Fearing after the first election hung verdict that the opposition National Democratic Alliance (NDA) was getting into a position to stake its claim to form the Government to displace the RJD, the Congress Party made its recently appointed Governor to indulge in a mid-night coup by ordering the dissolution of the newly elected Assembly even before its members could take their oaths. This was giving into pressure of the RJD Chief Laloo Yadav who is said to have threatened withdrawal of political support at the Centre in case his party in Bihar was not maneuvered back into power.
That this political coup by Governor Buta Singh to pre-empt the NDA getting into power was not only politically immoral but was also unconstitutional has been borne out by the interim verdict of India's Supreme Court. Its final verdict is due and which could further reinforce this conviction and could lead to political tremors for PM Manmohan Singh and implicitly for Congress President, Sonia Gandhi without whose concurrence Governor Buta Singh could not have indulged into a constitutional impropriety. Regrettably, the august office of the President of India has also been drawn into this controversy leading some circles to call for his resignation.
Disgusted with 15 years of mis-governance where development and poverty alleviation of Bihar's poor masses was given a go-by and political divisiveness, political immorality, corruption and lawlessness became the main features, and exasperated by the immoral political machinations of the ruling combine, the people of Bihar gave an overwhelming electoral verdict for political change by voting in the NDA.
In the process above the Bihar electoral verdict besides validating India's grassroots democracy also has sent out some powerful political messages which have a strong bearing on the forthcoming Assembly elections to six States in 2006.
The Election Commission of India (EC) in the conduct of Bihar elections has notably distinguished itself by breaking the stranglehold of political mafias in terms of terrorizing the electorate by violence, coercion, booth capturing and stuffing ballot boxes with bogus votes. The Bihar elections for the first time were free and fair and the voters exercised their franchise without fear. The EC's firm handling and incessant close scrutiny of the entire electoral process neutralized the conniving role the State administrative machinery would play in support of the ruling party in past elections.
The above sends a strong message to States like the Communist Party (M) ruled West Bengal due for elections in 2006. Here too the ruling party has been in power for more than 15 years chiefly on the strength of political violence and coercion exercised by Communist Party (M) cadres at the grassroots level and a fearful and submissive State administrative machinery. Fearful, that the EC would not hesitate to repeat its Bihar pattern of strict implementation of electoral codes of conduct and preventing electoral violence, the Leftists have begun a critical propaganda against the EC terming many of its decisions as unconstitutional. One should expect to hear more of this as elections in West Bengal come closer.
The Bihar elections have also thrown up questions on Congress President Sonia Gandhi's political charisma. In Bihar she publicly endorsed Laloo Yadav's political party and addressed joint election rallies. None of this seems to have made any impact on the Bihar electorate as the results indicate.
The Bihar electoral verdict would also likely to have an impact on the Congress Party's strategy for the State Assembly elections next year in the choice of regional electoral allies. India's masses no longer seem to be voting strictly on casteist or minority vote banks basis. Economic and social development indices seem to be coming into play in the political consciousness of the electorate. In Bihar the RJD's much touted casteist and patently communal formula of Muslim-Yadav electoral vote bank failed to deliver success. Nor the combined Congress-RJD slogan of secularism failed to ignite the masses in favor of these parties. The Congress Party would need to go into a serious rethink of its policies of political expediency. As it is it has a serious image problem of having in its Cabinet fold tainted ministers with corruption and criminal charges against them mainly from the RJD and which includes RJD Chief Laloo Yadav.
Whether the new political dispensation in Bihar can retrieve the state from the morass it has inherited can only unfold with the passage of time, but one thing that is certain is that it is a daunting task to do so. Going by the electoral verdict it needs to heed the call of speedy development and visible development in the coming months. The lack of economic development in the last 15 years has forced thousands of Biharis to migrate to other States in search for jobs and they are prospering there by their hard work. It proves the fact that the Biharis are not lacking in acumen or abilities. If Bihar has lacked anything sorely it is good political governance and political morality from which would have logically flowed economic and social development.
India's democracy stands validated in more ways than one by the Bihar electoral verdict. It also proves that India's rural masses which may not be highly literate, yet have an innate native wisdom to make political choices which they feel are possibly in tune with their aspirations.
Lastly, India's Supreme Court and the Election Commission shine out as fiercely independent beacons which further validate that in the entire democracy-deficit South Asia region, India stands out as a vibrant and pulsating democracy despite the myriad of challenges that it has to encounter.