Home to over 133 crores of people (~18% of world population) and nearly 90 crores of which are eligible for universal suffrage makes India indeed the world’s largest democracy. An active proportion of this “90 crores” will participate in yet another festival of democracy during the summers of 2019. The Republic of India will decide her fate for another five years by choosing leaders for the 17th time after independence.
Given the wide scale on which this festival of democracy is celebrated every five years in the country, it is reasonable to thoroughly comprehend the overarching agenda on which the political parties are trying to woo the vast voters base in the country.
The last general elections held in 2014 were indeed a landmark. The 2014 elections witnessed the people venting out their frustration against rampant corruption in the political class. This anger and frustration got seeded amongst the voters during the three preceding years of the elections, at the outset of the Anna Hazare Movement in 2011. The anti-incumbency was well mobilized by the opposition, and the 2014 elections were fought on the agenda of ‘Development’ and ‘Against Corruption’, with prime focus on the youth.
The narrative set by this agenda for the 2014 elections was strongly communicated through new and modern methods in election campaigning and did successfully mobilize the highest voter turnout till date in India, minimizing the gap between men and women turnout.
Unlike the 2014 elections, general elections 2019 seems to be agenda-less or just about political parties trying to win elections at large, or revolving around the aspirations of Indian youth. In fact, it seems to mobilise the raging Indian youth by dividing their unfulfilled aspirations into two major categories – “Chowkidars – the loud believers” and “Berozgars – the angry non-believers”.
The former is about the section of the youth that believes in making new India and thinks that assertive and loud politics is the need of the hour. They believe the previous political class has deceived them for long and they must be wiped out completely. For this, they strongly support all sorts of the paradigm shift in governance & political systems in the country and blindly favor dominance in politics. With this approach, whenever the political class or their hegemonic tendencies are questioned, this section has loudly supported chauvinism and jingoism. A proportion of this section is certainly constructive and has pushed the ruling class for good governance. But this calm and silent proportion has been ignorant of the political failures.
The latter is frustrated by the huge backlog of rampant unemployment in the country largely, and then they don’t see a breakthrough in identity politics and involvement of criminals in politics in India. Also, they acknowledge that there has been no major downfall in political class corruption, particularly at the decentralised level, and are frustrated by excessive political branding. They do not believe that there is any new India in making as the pseudo-democratic values based on identity prevails even now. Adding to this, there is denial for accepting failures & incompetencies, and dubious political marketing to brag any minor achievement or no achievement by the ruling political class.
At large, both the sides we have a considerable size of raging Indian youth, trying to prove each other wrong. With this tussle, there has been a rise of hegemonic tendencies and pandemonium over aspirations, apparently. More than focusing on evaluating the performance of the Government facing elections vis-à-vis performance of previous Governments, both the ends are engaged in ridiculing each other. The opposition is failing to offer a valid and sustainable way forward. It fails to appropriately communicate the weakness of the incumbent Government and press them to accept the faults. The fight is more reactive than it is constructive.
It is evident, that on one end, the political class is certainly seeking power, the people on the other end have failed to demand a constructive and sustainable electoral debate in the larger public interest.
Now, the question arises that in such a scenario what should be the agenda for elections, what are the points to ponder. For the Indian democracy to be more mature, opting for ‘politics of performance’ over pandemonium is anytime the only viable option, where the actual performance of the government and its capacity to deliver in future is given more importance. In this case, the incumbent government has indeed performed well on several fronts in the last five years.
Comparing the economic growth of India in last five years of NDA II Government (2014-19) vis-à-vis that during UPA II (2009-14), the GDP growth rate suffered during the last two to three years of both the Governments, perhaps, due to the after-effects of recession and policy paralysis during UPA II, and due to demonetization followed by GST during NDA II.
However, demonetization coupled with direct benefit transfer, JAM trinity, resulted in large scale remonetization – improving the bank penetration, financial inclusion and digital banking in the country. One of the key endeavors of NDA II was to weed out leakages and middlemen in public delivery of services on several ends. DBT measures, enacting the black money Act for undisclosed foreign wealth, adopting e-processes for auction, etc. are some of the key initiatives taken up in this context, which could not be implemented by UPA.
The NDA II laid high focus on infrastructure development to ensure seamless connectivity across the country. Both big-ticket projects including Sagarmala for ports, inland waterway, Bharatmala (rail-road network), and basic infrastructure projects including village electrification, sanitation, affordable housing, and rural link roads were brought back in focus by the NDA II.
Most of these projects were components of “Bharat Nirman” and “JNNURM” under UPA regime for 10 years, but the focused and accountable framework designed under NDA II for most of these projects yielded visible success, be it in case of village electrification, rural ODF or rural road connectivity. Unlike UPAII, the NDA II was fortunate in controlling the food inflation. The proactive food management policy of NDA II considerably brought down the food prices in the country to the lowest levels in a decade.
As mentioned, unlike the policy paralysis in UPA owing to coalition woos and leadership tussle, NDAII firstly had the advantage of dominating representation in the lower house, followed by unchallenged leadership. As a result, NDA II stood firm in decision making and introducing reforms. However, with this absolute position to take quick decisions without any coalition pressures in Governance, the NDA II did make few mistakes and missed vital opportunities in the larger public interest.
Such as, the low food prices coupled with demonetization added to farmer distress in the country, which was one of the biggest challenges for the incumbent Government. It cannot be denied that NDA II could not address the farmer distress adequately. Then, in spite of the push given by the Government to boost manufacturing through Make in India, the cash crunch caused by demonetisation struck hard the MSME sector and adversely affected the manufacturing index (PMI) in the country. It has hardly improved from 51.5 in March 2014 to 52.6 in March 2019. With this, a major opportunity in employment generation has indeed been missed.
As reported, the unemployment rate at 6.1% is highest in 45 years (NSSO 2017-18) with a huge backlog of unemployed persons and more adding. It must also be noted that unlike the UPA, NDA II hardly focused on social sectors. The education sector was highly ignored in the last five years. On one side, NDA II boasts its swiftness in decision making, and on the another, it cannot be overlooked that the Government could not finalize the New Education Policy in five years.
At last, while evaluating the political class in 2019, the poll inflation introduced in last elections by BJP cannot be ignored. With the advent of excessive political branding, media buying and premium campaign models in Indian elections led by BJP has resulted in dubious marketing and unnecessary expenditure for political advantage. The per-capita expenditure per voter in 2014 was INR 42, as against INR 12 only in 2009, and it is certainly expected to rise further in 2019. It is a recorded fact that NDA II has spent over INR 5000 Cr between 2014 – 2018 on advertisement and publicity, which was twice of what UPA spent in 10 years, spending only around INR 2600 Cr.
What Do We Have?
Now the subsequent question is what does the opposition offers. Presently, we have a scattered opposition, primarily led by Congress. The wide spectrum of leaders, divided in opinion but united only to gain power, cannot promise a stable Government indeed. The sad part of this is they cannot even offer a strong opposition that can keep strict vigilance on governance.
The scattered opposition with so many leaders representing multiple aspirations in silos can only nurture vote bank politics. Indeed, this includes leaders who have performed exponentially well in their territories. However, it is a fact that they fail to represent the aspirations of the entire country.
It is not that the ruling class doesn’t nurture vote bank politics, but they have opted for a different approach of vote consolidation. This involves serving the divisive lines of vote bank in the country and trying to bring them under one roof, promising differential treatment and class emancipation. The ruling class has time and again ignored, rather protected the hegemonic tussles in this context. They have nurtured chauvinism, hyper-nationalism and protected the feudalistic mindset in many instances.
The most unfortunate part is, that even Congress fails to provide an overarching canvass to represent a strong opposition. The national party that has ruled the country for decades presently has opted a reactive approach to represent only the aspirations of the segment against the ruling class. Owing to this myopic strategy, it doesn’t even focus to provide holistic representation to all sections of the society. They seem to have lately recognized this lapse and are improving their methods of challenging the ruling class, but then again they are failing to communicate a strong alternate plan.
The Way Forward – Towards A Mature Democracy
Certainly, India needs political stability for focused and consistent planning and governance. But isn’t it time that we as voters, especially the youth, rather falling prey to aspirations of the political class – ruling or opposition, becomes more thoughtful and emphasizes a mature democracy. A democracy where we pressurize the parties to weed out criminal/vicious candidates, to not give tickets to candidates on identity-based winnability factors. Can’t we stand to demand to vote for a suitable and competent candidate in our respective constituencies?
The 70-year-old Republic must now focus on strengthening its democratic system. We follow ‘first past the post’ (FPTP) system – where democracy is supposed to begin from home, not be limited to the political parties and their national leaders. Our system provides a framework for democracy at roots. However, we have consistently failed to support the cause. We have been voting for political parties and leadership at large than voting for the respective candidates from our constituencies; if at all it happens, it is because of caste and religion based identities of the candidates.
The local representatives are rarely held accountable, and that is why we face policy/ scheme implementation failures, unbalanced regional development, etc. The performance-based yardstick is more applicable on national leaders and their political parties at large, rather it should be exercised on each and every candidate, irrespective of their political party. The politics of performance must trickle down at lower levels to establish India as a mature democracy.
While we go for voting this 2019 elections, it is important to focus on how we as voters contribute in weeding out vote bank politics – to let the parties fight fair elections on true agenda of development. They say leaders are a reflection of the society – yes we are the society.
The high involvement of youth in politics led by such ignorance of these facts is unfortunate and unbecoming of citizens belonging to a constitutional democracy. Unless we change ourselves, our voting specifications and patterns, the politics in India shall remain what it is. The only way forward is to vote for a performance-based mature democracy.
Featured Image Source: Facebook