India, when she sizzles

 Since 1984 – when the Rajiv Gandhi led-Congress Party got a historic mandate of 400-plus seats in the Lok Sabha – no single party has crossed the 272-seat barrier

India, when she sizzles

The summer of 2014 is a tough time for India. Its reputation as a mature democracy is at stake. For nearly six weeks, the behaviour of not just its political leaders and parties, or for that matter, all the electoral contestants, but even the voters would be on test. Do the politicos fight the elections in the right spirit? Do the voters come up with a mature verdict? Especially the young first-time voters, who are believed to be the deciding factor in shaping the outcome of this election. They number more than 10 crores, and we can safely say that this is their make-or-break moment.

May be at the end, there will be a neat and clean verdict, but there is no denying the messy complexity of the electoral scene. Every conceivable divisive factor is in operation across the length and breadth over the 543 Lok Sabha constituencies. Indeed, if we go by the past record, we observe that after 1984 – when the Rajiv Gandhi led-Congress Party got a historic mandate of 400-plus seats in the Lok Sabha – for nearly 30 years, no single party has crossed the 272-mark barrier. The coalition era at the centre seems to have firmly entrenched itself. It also places greater demands on the leaders who run the governments, in terms of administrative, as well as political skills. May be there is a point in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s argument that history shall judge him more kindly than the present-day media. Stability, the main characteristic of his ten-year rule, may perhaps be appreciated more in retrospect.

Amidst this reality, there has been a well-planned and determined bid by the BJP to convert this election to a US presidency like contest. In banking on Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s persona, by anointing him as the prime ministerial candidate, it has converted this election into a single issue referendum. But as the Congress has refused to join the

Contest, by not naming its prime ministerial candidate, this is technically a one-horse race. The BJP’s emphasis on Modi is accentuated by its mission 272+, which aims to deny coalition compulsions at the pre-poll stage. So, in a sense the BJP wants to rewrite the rules of coalition politics. They key question that the BJP has formulated is whether the people will vote for their local candidate or for the prime ministerial candidate? Moreover, it has put all its eggs in the one basket called Narendra Modi. Will this summer give it a positive answer?

One can ignore the state parties in this election at their own peril. Whatever be their comparative strength at the national level, there is no doubt that these are the ones that are calling the shots in the electoral calculus within their jurisdiction. The manner in which the voters have opted for a single party rule in most states with decisive verdicts, is a confirmation of such voter behavior. The other corresponding reality being that the results of the Lok Sabha elections more or less mirror the state assembly performances. For that matter, the BJP is riding high on a ‘national wave’, primarily after the 0-4 results in the four states that went to polls in November 2013.

A fractured mandate loaded in favour of the non-Congress, non-BJP parties is the nightmare that haunts everyone who cherishes a stable government. The defeat of the Congress, without a clear victory for the BJP is the national equivalent of the Delhi assembly results, which saw a 49-day long government led by the debutant Aam Aadmi Party. Should this happen at the national level as well, then the maturity of the electorate would be called into question.

Beyond the fate of the respective political parties, and their leaders, as well as the contesting candidates, it is the very future of India that is at stake. The ability of our democracy to wisely choose its leaders-parliamentarians – has come into question over the last few years on several counts. The primary yardstick for this assessment is the quality of governance in the country. Forget the legality of the issues, the plain and simple fact is that when confronted with any charge of misdemeanour against any ruling class politician, the reflexive response is that it is not an isolated case. So, if the BJP points towards an Ashok Chavan in the Adarsh case, the Congress is ready with cases against Yeddyurappa in mining cases. The AAP has emerged as an alternative, but has admitted to be an anarchist, and even though it has not lost in terms of popularity in Delhi, its brief tenure in governance was marked by too many controversies. Even the Gujarat model, so heavily marketed by the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, is not without its loopholes.

Electing the 16th Lok Sabha is a complex task for the Indian public. It is rendered tough by the apparent inadequacies of the main players and the lack of organisational support for them on a pan-India scale. Whether it is Narendra Modi or Rahul Gandhi, or the third front leaders, they all lack pan-India clout and the organisational power that would make them acceptable across the 543 constituencies.

Ordinarily, an election is a celebration of democracy, and one should enjoy this festival of the people. But it comes at a crucial moment in our nation’s journey, where the leaders do not seem equipped to lead us into a future that will fulfill the hopes and aspirations of the bulk of our population. When more than 80 crore people set out to vote, they are not simply exercising their franchise, they are also participating in an act of faith. They embody a faith that India will be a land of equal opportunity for all, and would give them the full freedom to realise their potential to the fullest. But then, they are also confronted with the reality that on some count or the other, those claiming to lead them have faltered in the past, and do not inspire the right amount of confidence.

   Anil Sharma

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