By Kamlesh Atwal
There is multi-dimensional, post-election analysis of the high voltage Gujarat Assembly Election at the end of 2017. Some analyst identified it as one man show like ‘Modi Magic’; few others identified Congress’s moral victory, urban-rural electoral division or the consequences of agrarian crisis. Every political Pandit has his own rationality or assumption based on certain variables.
While teaching social studies and polity from class VI to X, certain significant questions have been asked by the students based on their limited manifestation. This manifestation has been drawn from their text books, developed and published by NCERT, an autonomous organisation of Government of India. Indeed most of the content seems ideal and theoretical but this is the only framework around which the entire pedagogy of a teacher revolves. For a social science teacher to explain the constitution, its ideals and objectives revolves around the text that is available in each hand i.e. the text book of a particular class. When a teacher involved interactively and pragmatically in the classroom, he or she has been bombarded by the logical questions which arise from the gap between text books and real politics that the students witnessing in their television screen or experiencing around them.
Our Identity and yours secularism
For instance, first chapter of civics in VI class titled-‘Understanding Diversity’ celebrates different kind of diversity including the religious one and concludes diversity as a natural process. When the TV debates predominately covered Rahul Gandhi’s status of ‘non-Hindu’ or his and Prime Minister’s numeral temple visits, an innocent question has its own significance “is there no Mosque in Gujarat?” Teacher can only remind the fact that there are approximately 10 percent Muslims in the state (according the 2011 census-Islamic religion followed by 9.67% of Gujarati). While explaining the concept ‘Secular’, which has been mentioned in a chapter ‘Indian Constitution’, a student of class VIII asked the question-Sir, if secularism means equal distance from all religions, then why should the Head of the Government i.e. PM not keep himself away from all religious identities or at least maintain same level of proximity with all religions. I was observing how keenly he understood the concept of secularism at the age of thirteen. I wish his understanding regarding secularism remains the same till the age he starts using EVM.
Democracy beyond electoral success
More interestingly class IX book ‘Democratic Politics-I’, ignites a fundamental question about the definition of democracy which is more significant in the current discourse where winning election seems an ultimate goal for being politically correct. An establishment’s all decisions justified if it will get electoral success in an election. After sixth consecutive term in Gujarat, as PM describe the ruling establishment in last three and half years in power had won so many elections and ruled 19 states in the country, seems a morale booster for those who support the establishment’s any decision on this ground.
But our school text books are suggesting something else. The text book ‘Democratic Politics-I, II’ argue more than once that election is not only the criteria to define whether a system is democratic or not. For instance a case study of Mexican Presidential election where every election won by the ruling party called PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) before 2001 due to many dirty tricks, like a large sum of money spent in election. Media in this situation largely ignore the activities of opposition parties except to criticise them. Only for the sake of logic if someone in the classroom tried to correlate the current Gujarat phenomena with the Mexican case study, than validity of the question cannot simply rejected. Indian democratic system allows anyone to be a part of electoral process as a candidate, but without large sum of money and institutional support it would be a remote probability to win the election.
Fairness of Election: A new way of looking free and fair
Instead of celebrating continuous electoral success of any party, why should we not raising questions on decade long system of advantage for the ruling party by creating a favourable environment and power structure. How would a new party or individual be able to fight against those in power since decades? This raised the question of free and fair election process in our democracy. Thus, for a teacher it is easy to convince the students with the conclusion drawn from the books that “A democracy must be based on a free and fair election where those currently in power have a fair chance of losing.” In today’s Indian politics, with exception of left, ideology is no longer a motivation in persuasion of a political career as we observed that ruling party has the umbrella of all winning possibilities irrespective of their past political background. So why should a voter be loyal for a political party for decades. There may be the possibilities that a voter wants to move away from past political choices but existing power structure and dirty tricks do not allow him/her to change their past behaviour while casting vote.
Another issue of free and fair election which our textbook highlights is the issue of huge expenditure in elections. As Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) in one of its report highlights that out of 182 newly elected members of Gujarat Legislative Assembly 142 (77%) are crorepati. Candidate and parties with a huge amount of money do enjoy unfair advantage over smaller parties. Such practices not only obstacle in free and fair election but also cause a serious impact on our economy. Unfortunately this expenditure has been rising comparatively.
Lack of meaningful political alternative in election
In Gujarat assembly election nearly 5.5 lakh voters went with NOTA. If these votes would have been gone to any party, they might have significantly changed the results in several constituencies. According to the ADR, out of 182 MALs in the newly constitute Gujarat Assembly, 42 (26%) MLAs have declared criminal cases against themselves. 18% of MLAs in the assembly are serious criminal cases like murder, attempt to murder and robbery etc. Unfortunately there is no rigorous analysis or debate on each candidate’s profile and their manifesto at constituency level. If this is the case then, what are the criteria of the people on which they choose their representative? It means voters are choosing their representatives by some other motivations; and day-to-day issues like-healthcare, education and employment have no longer valid in elections. These emerging trends show that there is a lack of alternative in our political system and helplessness for a voter to choose between representatives and political aristocrats. The unavailability of political alternative not only in the EVM block but also in the policies and in public behaviour might be the reason that led voters to follow the same voting pattern. This requires a special attention for political commentators to explain. Therefore, biggest challenge for our democratic model is that the elections do not offer a meaningful choice to the voters.
Challenges: But only in the Text Books
Democracy is the most acceptable and accountable political system that has been recognised worldwide. Election is one of the important steps that assure people’s participation in government formation. Therefore, it is necessary that the election should be conducted in such a way that the political system remains legitimate in common citizen’s perception. As our textbooks and most of the political reformers believe that there must be electoral reforms immediately. A textbook of class X reveals that the state funding is a vital step for a free and fair election. Although it is an arguable issue but some sincere public debate on election funding should be there. Internal democracy is another issue where all the parties have the same track record. Without internal democracy, political parties have been emerged as private limited companies, predominately controlled and managed by few family and dynasties. In these situations no matter who win the elections. Ultimately without accountable, responsible and legitimate government citizens would be the looser.
(Kamlesh Atwal is the academic-coordinator at Nanakmatta Public School, Uttarakhand. He got Doctorate degree from JNU, New Delhi in 2016. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)