A sudden silence engulfs the country at the peak of campaigning during every election, be it in the states or at the national level. The silence is almost choking for about two weeks or so. Unpredictable price rise, a characteristic of inflation which has become part of the daily life of every Indian comes to a standstill. People are not used to such peace and tranquillity in their regular lives. It is a sigh of relief to see the prices of fuel and commodities soar again the next day after the elections. This is how the political, civil and business establishments are mocking the very essence of democracy. But this is just scratching the surface, one of the many effects people are experiencing being part of the establishment.
Here is the interesting fact about elections in India. None of the candidates’ political parties put up as people’s representatives during elections have any experience in social services. Indian society has been conveniently segregated into vote banks based on the lines of religion and caste and people vote based on these grounds. The agenda of political parties during election campaigns is not to talk to the people about economic development and social issues. Opposition parties use these as their weapons to attack the incumbent party during election campaigns and then the mud slinging ensues.
For every political party, there are three category of voters: the loyal voters, the fence sitters and the non-voters. The non-voters will never vote for the party unless something dramatic happens which induces a mass migration. This is like converting the bad cholesterol to good cholesterol. The loyal voters will always vote for the party no matter what happens. It is the fence sitters who are really targeted during election campaigns. This is where the Cambridge Analytica saga unfolded. Data collection and targeted election campaigning through social and other media are done to woo the fence sitters. In India, fence sitters are voters whose votes are bought in return for money, alcohol or gifts. All of these are nothing considering what happens in the aftermath of elections.
Consider the latest round of state election that just concluded in Karnataka. It was a three-way battle between BJP, the party that has the control of the central government, Indian National Congress (INC) the party that was in power in the state for the last five years and the JD(S). The total number of contested seats was 224 and the magic number to get the absolute majority to form the government was 112. No party got a clear majority as was expected in most of the exit polls. BJP got 104 seats, INC 78, JD(S) 37 and three went to independent candidates or smaller parties. Now here is where the madness begins. If we go by the absolute majority process, no party can form the government. Ideally, the state government has to call for another election. But the election process is a massive strain on the civil administration with a huge investment of time and money into election campaigns. Because of this reason, the governor has invited the BJP, the party with the largest mandate or vote share to prove their ability to form the government in the next six days.
How can BJP accomplish this? These three parties have fought tooth and nail against each other in the election because of their ideological differences and even the three candidates who won as independents or from smaller parties have ideological differences with all the other parties. As is the case in all elections, the three would eventually join the party that ultimately forms the government. Supposing BJP can convince the three to join their party, they are still five members short. Five winners from either the INC or the JD(S) have to jump ship and join the BJP.
This is a usual occurrence in the Indian political scenario where the party which is trying to form the government woos independents and members from other parties with the reward of money or cabinet berths aka horse trading. But what has heated up the situation is, the INC is ready to support the JD(S) to form the government. The irony here is, INC and JD(S) candidates were pitted against each other and had fought tooth and nail with accusations against one another during the election campaigns. Even more ironic is in the fact that the INC has won far more number of seats than the JD(S) but the INC, knowing that they have been voted out of power have chosen wisely not to try to take centre stage.
Now let’s consider the case of voter X who is a fence sitter. He is disillusioned with the governance of both the INC in the state and the BJP at the centre and has voted for candidate A belonging to the JD(S) in his constituency who went on to win the election. Under the present circumstances, one of the below two could happen.
1) BJP woos A to jump ship and goes on to form the government
2) JD(S) allies with the INC and forms the government
So voter X who voted against both the BJP and INC is going to be ultimately governed by either of these parties, directly or indirectly. When it comes to getting into the seat of governance and grabbing the power that comes with it, political ideologies and differences fade away. The simple question here is, in such an environment where every situation could be manipulated, why are the people being made to vote and then made to look like dumb fools? There is an answer to this as well.
The candidates carry their vote banks along with them when they jump ship. Candidates have to convince only their loyal voters and even with the votes of the loyal voters elections could be conducted. So the establishment will run safe and smooth nevertheless. The situation in Karnataka may look complicated and crazy but this is how the establishment is built and has been working all along. The US is dominated by bipartisan politics and India is also swaying to a similar situation where either the BJP or the INC will always hold the reins of power. Is this how democracy is meant to be? I am not able to understand any of this which is why I am never able to convince myself to exercise my right to vote because I do not see myself anywhere in the process after I vote.