The Indian Election and going beyond ‘the Road Shows’-a note by Sumit Roy
The heat in Kolkata, West Bengal and most of India has been oppressive. This, however, has not sapped the enthusiasm of politicians and people to forge ahead with the largest election in theworld. Over 800 million have been eligible to vote with the percentage casting their vote ranging between 50-80% exceeding even the one in US Presidential elections. Indeed, the capacity of the nation to put democracy into practice has dazzled, mesmerized, and puzzled domestic and international analysts of all shades. The glittering ‘Road Shows’ of the major rival parties- the BJP and the Congress-as well as the smaller ones such as the CPM (Communist Party of India Marxist) and the AAP (Am Admi Party) have been trying to reach out to the ‘masses’with their respective strategies to move the nation forward and curb poverty.
The media including television and the press have been lapping it up and trying their best to highlight the rival claims and infighting of the parties. The political language used has embraced securalism, governance, corruption, and development with the parties espousing their own interpretations of such concepts. Narendra Modi, for instance, the leader of the BJP, has focused on ‘good governance’ which he sees as ‘minimum government and maximum governance.’
This suggests the pursuit of conventional economic policies which centre on a reduced role of the state and major emphasis on the market, albeit an Indian BJP one, while paving the way for bureaucratic changes. His ideas of spreading the professed successes of the ‘Gujarat model’ to the rest of India has been underscored by his reiteration of efficient administration, eliminating corruption, improving infrastructure, tackling terrorism, and more recently, sending back illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. He has much support from the Indian corporate sector, Hindu religious groups, and sections of the young who are desperate for a change. His opponents spearheaded by the Congress, and Rahul Gandhi, and progressive parties have vehemently challenged Modi and the BJP on grounds of anti secularism, anti minorities, the Gujarat riots, being pro business and anti poor. Moreover, they have questioned the relevance of the ‘Gujarat model’ for the rest of India. Congress in turn has fallen back on its performance of having taken the economy forward, and pursuing securalism, and promises of creating jobs and lifting millions from abject poverty. However, despite differences between the parties the scope for coalitions has been kept open in case no one party gains a majority.
The political drive to win over the hearts and the minds of voters has been interspersed with mutual recriminations though critical concerns over India’s economic and social concerns have been increasingly prominent. Political inertia has yet to creep in. All over the country rival parties have been forging ahead with their thirst for power, and maximizing their efforts to entice voters who remain bemused, somewhat irritated and confused by all the performances. In the streets of Kolkata, for instance, rival party posters and flags fill the narrow roads as auto rickshaws snake their way through the crowds with loudspeakers broadcasting the virtues of the parties. Alongside, they hold their meetings in street corners in different ‘paras’ (neighbourhoods) to explore and discuss key economic and socio-political concerns. Predictions of the outcome are fraught with problems.
Ultimately, of course the ‘masses’ may be unmoved by the smart campaigns and the media hipe. They are likely to weigh up the pros and cons of rival parties though caste, class, tribe, religion and specific needs of different regions are likely to be decisive in how they cast their vote. This has to be firmly set in the context of India’s perennial and contemporary economic and socio-political challenges-stimulating growth, accelerating industrialization, reducing poverty, inequality and injustices, creating jobs, and building infrastructure while tackling corruption, demands of groups wanting more state autonomy, and terrorism. The obstacles are formidable. Hence, in the post election phase the party which comes into power has to evolve a vision and policies which go beyond the ‘Road Shows.’ This has to focus on genuinely improving the lives of the majority.