Hoping for A Better Tomorrow
On conclusion of the last phase of the parliamentary elections for the 16th Lok Sabha on 12 May, 2014 for the world’s largest democracy, almost all major Indian new channels have come out with exit polls results and analysis. This also marks the end of a hectic, heated and often vilifying campaigning by the various political parties and their leaders. Exit polls are not results as such but it sure give a fair indication of likely trend how various stakeholders are likely to fare at the ballot box. Nation will know the truth on 16 May, 2014 yet going by the analysis and trends, it appears that the Indian electorate has voted for a change this time.
This election will also be remembered for several unique features. The Indian National Congress (referred to as Congress henceforth) which is the biggest national party had not formally endorsed and announced its prime ministerial candidate but people knew who is the futuristic leader and prime minister in the event of the party’s success at polls. The Bhartiya Janta Party (referred to as BJP henceforth) had entered in the election fray with prior announcement of its prime ministerial candidate months in advance. Then these elections will be remembered as the costliest elections so far both in terms of government spending and parties as well as individual spending. Further, all major parties had released their agenda before elections but for many it remained mere a reference document only because most of the contenders opted to use personal criticism and mud-slinging with no shame or remorse attached rather than debating their vision, programmes and policies. Voter turnout wise too this election with over 66.38% turnout surpassed previous best of 64% polling witnessed during 1984 general elections following the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. In 2009, total voter turnout was only about 58.2%.
Although no reliable data is available as of now but the instances of the misuse of cash, liquor, narcotics and other kind incentives as illegal inducement to electorate for influencing or buying votes have also shown sharp increase during these elections. Reportedly, illegal cash alone worth Rs 313 crores have been seized besides volumes of liquor and other contraband articles. It would be an obvious corollary that candidates, who spend huge amount of money to win elections, would later want to recover money spent with dividends by resorting to unethical ways and means and by granting favours & concessions to those who funded their campaign thereby compromising the chances of good governance and democratic functioning.
Almost all exit polls project an unprecedented success to the BJP led NDA in terms of getting maximum parliamentary seats, some predicting absolute majority and others a high tally short of majority only by a few numbers. Although in the past, many exit polls have gone awry but even if one takes a conservative estimate, it appears likely that the BJP and its allies will be in a better position to form the next government. This view is also strengthened by the high turnout of the electorate. The past experiences suggest that such a situation occurs usually in the event of a high anti-incumbency wave against the ruling party.
Parties have already started hectic activities to formulate their post result strategies. With the exit polls predicting imminent defeat of the Congress led UPA, a few staunch loyalist Congress leaders have already questioned reliability of the exit polls, and at the same time they have defended the party face and heir apparent of any responsibility for the possible defeat during the elections. The argument being given in favour is that it is a collective responsibility of the government whose performance was at stake before the electorate during the elections.
If the Congress party indeed fares poorly during the elections, the obvious main reasons would be the anti-incumbency factor due to ten years mediocre and lackluster governance, failure to effectively handle numerous scams like Commonwealth Games, 2G, Coalgate etc., murky Defence deals, failure to curb inflation and rampant corruption. Like a war, an election too is often fought in the name of its leaders. A good leader is one who leads from the front voluntarily taking responsibility for the debacle and sharing credit for success with his (or her) men. But the situation seems to be the contrary with this oldest and largest national party. Notwithstanding, it may not be possible to completely firewall the party face and heir apparent from criticism and responsibility in the event of an electoral decimation, if the result forecast indeed comes true. The attempts of the party leaders would be seen as a shaky and weak Defence to absolve him of all responsibility in the event of a poor performance.
Many independent analysts may ascribe another reason for the debacle of the Congress led UPA government and that is the existence of duel power centres all along. Earlier in a book by Mr Sanjay Baru, the former media adviser to Prime Minister, he had extensively dealt with the duel power centres in the UPA government and how it impacted the government decisions. In yet another book by Mr Arun Maira, a member of the planning commission, it has been pointed out that the Ruling Party President had called shots on important appointments and policies and now the heir apparent is being called upon to discharge his dynastic duties and lead the party. He has strongly pleaded for the need of the institutional reforms even preceding to the economic reforms so that the capacity of institutions can catch up with the demands that economic reforms pose on them.
The case in point is why should a leader shy away taking responsibility in the event of a failure if he takes credit for achievements of the party. The remarks on ‘collective responsibility’ becomes significant because the election campaign for the 16th Lok Sabha revolved around the Congress vice-president of UPA and the BJP prime ministerial candidate of NDA and by many it was seen as a ‘Narendra Modi vs Rahul Gandhi’ contest though the latter was not formally endorsed as party’s prime ministerial candidate.
An interesting feature of these elections was the emergence and joining the fray by the Aam Admi Party (AAP). The AAP had fielded over 400 candidates, only next to the Congress and BJP, through the length and breadth of the country setting a sort of record in its maiden attempt. Though the party speaks for the welfare of the common public (i.e. aam admi), a fairly high percentage of its candidates too reportedly were billionaires and with criminal records. However, in the absence of an organizational structure, committed cadre and perhaps adequate resources, as the election fever picked up, their fight in most of the constituencies became more or less symbolic, except in some parts of Delhi, Punjab and Maharashtra. Later on their key leaders including the party convener focused their attention only to two constituencies namely Varanasi and Amethi.
Going by the result forecast of exit polls, the AAP is likely to lose even at its home turf in Delhi. They may get a few seats in Punjab or elsewhere mainly due to anti-incumbency factor. The very strategy to exhaust their entire strength and resources only on two constituencies itself speaks volumes of their miscalculations and misadventure. Two top leaders of the BJP and Congress have hardly spent a day or two in their constituencies for campaigning due to their onerous responsibilities at the national level. As against this, the key AAP leaders camped for months together in two constituencies just with an agenda to defeat them yet the post poll indications are that the electorate has not gone with them.
Interestingly, the leader of the party proclaims himself to be an anarchist and bitterly criticizes every rival politician as dishonest and corrupt. It is to be seen after the election results if he continues with his same onslaught against all other parties and leaders and increasingly loses his relevance in the Indian politics or he takes a lesson or two and pursues more down to earth approach in future. He certainly has fire and potential within, and the need of hour is that he starts acting like a responsible and mature politician while pursuing his agenda on participative democracy, ending VIP culture and altruism in political life.
Various parties, including national and regional, had their own music to play throughout the elections to charm the electorate their way. This included inducements of all forms including assurances for more reservation, playing on social, emotional and class or cast sentiments and even communal card. Then by some, there was a repeated reference to past glory of some legendary leaders. People need to realize that you can’t always play on sentiments and flaunt your inheritance and achievement of forefathers attained decades ago. People would want results in the form of the growth and development today. They would like to have an able leadership which can take them to a healthy and prosperous future. The contemporary young and restless generation including the first time voters is sure to have largely gone to polls demanding the answers to their education, unemployment and corruption as their top agenda items.
The BJP this time had gone to elections with the development agenda and decisive leadership as its main poll planks. All along during the campaign, its prime ministerial candidate had repeatedly stated that the government have one religion i.e. India. His pro-growth image, pledge to adhere to the constitution appears to have impressed masses that he can indeed deliver and bring the much desired change. To many liberal minded Indians, the BJP’s prime ministerial nominee represents a threat on the democratic character and secular credentials of the nation. Paradoxically, at the same time, masses particularly younger lot, who are desperate for bigger opportunities to meet their rising aspirations, feel that he is the hope for a bright future with his consistent emphasis on good governance and development.
Who gets mandate of people to form government and who becomes prime minister to take India forward in this decade among the league of nations, we will know on 16 May, 2014. But it is heartwarming to note what BJP’s prime ministerial candidate has stated at the eve of the polling coming to an end and the exit polls pointing to the BJP led NDA victory. He has stated that it is a time to resurrect the spirit of bipartisanship in the Indian politics which was temporarily lost in the poll campaign. This is the right time to look ahead. It is a time to connect with each other. He further suggested that the people be placed over the politics, hope over despair, healing over hurting, inclusion over exclusion and development over divisiveness.
We only hope that he indeed believes in what he said on the occasion and carries his agenda forward for a better tomorrow in the event of people reposing faith in his leadership through ballot.
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Dr. Jaipal Singh
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