By Bhamy V Shenoy
Any election in India is a festive and exciting time for the poor, the middle class and the rich for the poor to earn easy money, for the middle class to pontificate and rationalise why no good will come out of voting, and for the rich to get maximum value by supporting the right candidates. Despite these obvious drawbacks, it is a miracle that the largest democracy in the world has managed to elect some good candidates from a set of mostly undeserving, corrupt and incompetent politicians to lead India all these years.
In 1977, Indian voters punished the Congress party for the Emergency. In 1980, they brought back the Congress since the opposition could not provide a stable government. In 2014, against all predictions, Indian voters gave a majority to the BJP after suffering from the corrupt rule of the UPA-1 and UPA-2.
The current general elections are often mentioned as the most important one. We have heard such things before also. However, this time, some argue that there is greater compulsion to vote wisely since the future of India depends on the outcome of the election. Is it really true?
After the loss of the NDA last December in three major states and as a result of different political parties making plans to form coalitions with the single objective of defeating the NDA, it looked as though Narendra Modi did not have any chance of becoming the Prime Minister again. However, after a mini Mahagathbandhan in Uttar Pradesh, there has not been any successful effort to form a coalition at the national level.
Some polls taken during the middle of the month of March have shown that the NDA may succeed in securing enough seats to form the next government. In the Indian context where caste, religion, money and muscle power, regional affinity, dynasty-oriented politics, celebrity status, etc, often seem to decide the election results, polls have not been reliable.
Many political pundits have written erudite articles discussing why the NDA may not come to power. Demonetisation and GST are the two factors often mentioned to support their argument. In the recent months, the failure to create new jobs by the NDA is another factor highlighted in the media.
Love Jihad, mob lynching and cow vigilantism are the factors that have been discussed regularly since Modi came to power, to point out the glaring failures of the BJP. According to an analysis by the home ministry, there has been 28% rise in communal incidents under NDA watch. As a result of sustained attacks, there has been erosion in the autonomy of institutions in the education space, courts and investigating agencies, and even RBI.
On the other hand, NDA supporters have not been successful in highlighting several good things the government has done. Without doubt, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, although it has not been a great success, has made millions aware of the need to keep our cities and towns clean the need to keep our environment clean is definitely on the national agenda now. Open defecation has come down with the construction of millions of toilets. Thanks to the direct benefit of subsidies, corruption in residential LPG has been more or less eliminated. But for the Rafale deal controversy, we have not heard of any other mega corrupt deals, unlike in the case of the UPA government.
In the energy sector, even though much needs to be done, the NDA has done much better job than the UPA did. The NDA had set an ambitious target of 1.75 lakh MW of renewable energy by 2020, which earlier looked impossible to meet. However, based on the performance so far, India may achieve it in good measure. Although millions in rural areas still do not have electricity connection, electricity has reached all the villages. Thanks to the Ujjwala scheme, LPG coverage has increased from 45% to 90% in five years under the NDA, helping the poor.
The NDA has been able to tame inflation (consumer price index was 5% during the NDA versus 8.1% during the UPA rule), and also the management of fiscal deficit is better under the NDA rule. Thanks to a new law to deal with bankruptcy, banks are able to improve their financial position considerably. Of course, non-performing assets of banks are still precarious, but this was mostly because of corrupt banking practices under the UPA.
With much fanfare, Rahul Gandhi, the president of the Congress party, has announced a minimum income plan and assured an annual payment of Rs 72,000 to each poor family, benefiting 50 million families. Will this help the UPA?
If we compare the overall contribution of the NDA against the UPA in India s economic sector, the NDA will score higher. However, it is in the treatment of minorities where the NDA has failed miserably. They should have controlled cow vigilantism and mob lynching better and not given any scope for criticism. On the other hand, the opposition has not been all that lily white. They have also been guilty of exploiting communal issues to create their vote banks.
Just about every political party, with the exception of Communist and Aam Aadmi Party, has tried to develop vote banks based on caste and communalism to give two illustrative examples. Despite the well-known corrupt practices of Mayawati and Deve Gowda families, both the leaders have been successful in creating vote banks of Dalits and Vokkaligas to gain political influence purely based on caste consideration.
The air strike by the government to destroy terrorist training grounds in Balakot, in Pakistan, after a terrorist attack in Pulwama (Jammu and Kashmir) has certainly helped the NDA. India s successful conduct of the anti-satellite missile test and thus becoming the fourth global power to have such a capability may also marginally help the NDA. If the Election Commission does not object to the release of the biopic on Modi on April 5, it will definitely help the NDA.
How will voters decide which is the critical factor for India s national interest while casting their votes? Is it the need for a stable government, as voters had realised in 1980, or is it other important factors like inclusion, pluralism, secularism, freedom, equality and tolerance, as argued by most thinkers and writers? If all the pluses and negatives of the NDA are weighed against the opposition, voters are likely to elect Modi, though with less majority, to give a stable government.
Let me hasten to state that my prediction is not any more reliable than revealed by the recent poll surveys. It is my hope that voters will send a strong message to all the political parties to uphold India s civilisational values of simple living and high thinking and the constitutional mandate of secularism. Then the time of election will be truly the dance of democracy to celebrate.
Views are personal