By Saurabh Gandhi:
The campaigning for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections has come to an end. The votes remain to be cast only for the last phase of elections today, the 12th of May. This is when I will be voting as Kolkata goes to poll.
I come from a state which has been ruled by political parties which have remained a part of the Central Government from time to time. Earlier, it was the Left parties which had supported the UPA-1 government and had withdrawn their support in 2008 over the nuclear deal. This time it was the All India Trinamool Congress which supported UPA-2 till 2012 when it withdrew over FDI in retail. Both in 2009 and 2014, the Central government was ruled by the Congress led coalition. The point I am trying to make is that West Bengal is a state where the local parties (if you may call them that) have had a national role to play in the past elections and 2014 might not be any different.
In spite of this national context, the thing to note is that neither of the national parties has a sound political base in the state. More importantly, the political parties’ campaigns for these elections have focused less around issues that are important for the state and the nation. As a resident of West Bengal, there were many issues that I thought would become talking points in these elections and most of these issues have a larger national context too but alas!
The issues which I had thought would become central points in the campaign include revamping of the education system in my state and the country as a whole and the general state of economic despondency in the country.
Sadly, the most important issue, according to me, has been relegated to the sides in these elections. There is that occasional talk of skill development, but no political party has talked about a total revamping of the education system. When rights based approach is talked about, I thought the Right to Education would be one of the central points and the implementation issues that it currently faces would be taken up by the opposition and answered by the ruling party. Apart from the issue of making education available to all, which has at least gathered the attention of governments in the past, the crucial issue that goes unnoticed is the need to focus on quality education which can not only make graduates like us more employable but also lead to innovation and research in the country. If you look at the number of institutes of higher education that we have and the number of patents from India that actually get approved or the number of thesis that get world recognition, you would be surprised. Focus on research and innovation can solve India’s numerous problems but then political parties are too focused on researching Twitter trends.
The issue of the general state of economic despondency has been discussed at length by the political parties. But again, the level of discourse has been restricted to whether the Gujarat model of development is applicable to the whole of India. By all means, one should debate the Gujarat Model but why limit yourself to that? I mean wouldn’t you have loved it if the leader in favour of FDI had cited facts from the countries that have reaped benefits and the opposition countering them with more facts and then collectively coming up with better policies? Also, the debate around the economy was confined to the big picture, that is, how the growth rate has come down and how they are going to create crores of jobs. No one actually talked about encouraging entrepreneurship at the college level. The talk of reaping demographic dividend has been going on since 2009. But I am sure no one talked about how they would be making it easier for a young college graduate to start his own venture without paying bribes.
In the US, the presidential hopefuls debate on the nuances of various issues like the economy, foreign policy and so on in a non-hostile and non rhetoric yet challenging manner. Expecting that in India would be asking for too much. But then the leaders of various political parties this time have given so many interviews and addressed so many public rallies. So it’s not like they could not engage in a duel of policy nuances without sitting across the table to each other. All the emphasis is going into who is whose daughter and how many interviews a particular politician has given. I know who is a certain XYZ and how many cars he has. What I don’t know is why didn’t they discuss these pressing issues in the right manner!
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