Lessons Of The Election Verdict In An Unlikely Democracy

Lessons Of The Election Verdict In An Unlikely Democracy

In a poor country, there has to be a mix of sustainable welfare and accent on economic growth to end poverty and promote opportunity and prosperity. But in an unequal society, growth is substantially benefiting those who have real skills and productivity, and live in urban areas

Dr Jayaprakash NarayanUpdated: Monday, June 17, 2024, 04:26 AM IST
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Lok Sabha Elections 2024 | FPJ

We are a most unlikely democracy. Our vastness, extraordinary diversity, mass poverty, and lack of self-governing experience for centuries before Independence make our elections and adherence to democracy sources of wonder in the modern world.

Obviously, local political and economic factors play a significant role in the national election. Our Lok Sabha verdicts are in large part an aggregation of state verdicts. Small, but significant, proportion of population of about 5-10% votes in Lok Sabha polls on national issues relevant to Union’s responsibilities. But most voters utilise every election — local, state or national — as an opportunity to deliver a verdict on the performance of the state government. In the minds of voters, state is the unit of governance and assembly constituency is the theatre of politics. In recent times a pan-Indian vote in the national election is growing. The share of people voting differently in state and national election is increasing slowly. Voters in states like Kerala and Delhi in particular seem to clearly distinguish the state from the Union.

Given this extraordinary complexity, it is hard to interpret the verdict in 2024 Lok Sabha election and draw lessons from it. However, four broad patterns and lessons can be gleaned from the electoral verdict.

First, people are impatient and volatile. If a party offers several individual short-term welfare measures, the voters may embrace that party, but it does not last. They want more than welfare. Karnataka and AP are prime examples. Similarly if a party offers collective long-term good in the form of order, infrastructure, investment and growth, voters may embrace that too, but not for long. Uttar Pradesh is a case in point. There is no easy formula for electoral success. Most voters are still on the margins of poverty. Therefore short-term welfare measures are popular with the bulk of the voters. But very soon people realise that transfer of money and free goods and services are not enough to make life better or to fulfil their aspirations. Similarly people reward parties that offer public order and crime control, infrastructure, investments, fiscal prudence and growth. But growth is not enough too. Uttar Pradesh and Odisha are examples of people wanting more than growth.

In a poor country, there has to be a mix of sustainable welfare and accent on economic growth to end poverty and promote opportunity and prosperity. But in an unequal society, growth is substantially benefiting those who have real skills and productivity, and live in urban areas. Rising tide lifts all boats; similarly economic growth improves lives of all families. But those without meaningful skills to participate in modern production process will not see significant increase in incomes. Poor healthcare delivery impoverishes people, dampens productivity and undermines earning capacity. Rural living limits opportunities in manufacturing and services. But migration to distant, inhospitable, large cities with low skills makes lives only marginally better. Gruelling urban poverty, lack of housing and social support system and insecurity make the lives of migrants miserable, and cities congested and crime-ridden. The second lesson from the election verdict is that people are crying out in despair. Thanks to TV and social media, they see the opportunities and lifestyles others enjoy, but are distant dreams for them. People want better lives for themselves. Inclusive growth involving quality school education focused on outcomes and skills; robust, effective, universal healthcare; and in situ urbanisation and small town development to absorb a large number of semi-skilled workers in a hospitable milieu closer to their rural habitats are critical for inclusive growth and harmonious society. This is the central message of the verdict.

The third message is, polarisation on grounds of caste, religion, region or language has limited electoral returns. Indian people, like all people, are prone to bigotry and prejudice to an extent. We do tend to deviate from socially productive behaviour and civilised norms; but there is a strict limit. Centuries of coexistence and compulsions of survival developed a sense of tolerance and acceptance of diversity even as we harbour some prejudices about ‘the other’. The moment prejudice crosses an unseen live, our society's inner compass is alerted, and we go back to the median. There is a clear “this-far-and-no-further” approach in our diversity. That is why our plurality, secularism, and embrace of new ideas are intrinsic to our culture and tradition, not the gifts of the state. People have at large shown our parties in this election that polarisation of society will not be rewarded beyond a point. This strengthens our democracy and society. “Ekam Sat, Vipra Bahudha Vadanti” (Truth is one, wise perceive it differently) has always been our society's guiding principle.

Finally the exaggerated fears of dictatorship, rigging, manipulating EVMs, Election Commission being subverted etc have been firmly put to rest. Our democracy is a work in progress, and there are many flaws. But they are outside the polling booths, not in the conduct of elections. While we need to work hard to improve our democracy, we should also trust our political process, conduct of elections and institutions of state. “I will accept the verdict if I win, I will reject it if I lose” approach is a recipe for disaster.

Elections are not about the parties and candidates; they are not about who wins and who loses. Elections are about the people, the voters, the tax payers, and about what happens after the elections, and how the future is shaped.

The author is the founder of Lok Satta movement and Foundation for Democratic Reforms. Email:drjploksatta@gmail.com / Twitter@jp_loksatta

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