Elections India 2009

Shehjar e-magazine

Youth Section
"The Dynamos of progress"

hen the time to witness general elections in the largest democracy in the world arrives, one expects and looks forward to an interesting battle between leaders belonging to a wide spectrum of parties with differing and distinct ideologies. The fourth wing of the country – the media – is expected to devote itself 24/7 on all types of issues surrounding the election battle. The electorate – the voter – is expected to practice their basic right (some day “duty” to which I agree) to vote. Each region in the country is expected to promise a unique battle on unique issues. One of the most culturally diverse nations – my country India - is currently witnessing the 2009 Lok Sabha (lower house of the Parliament) elections where leaders from diverse parties attempt to be elected as a Member of Parliament (MP) to the 15th Lok Sabha of independent India. The comprehensive diversity that makes an Indian proud is gaining an unprecedented prominence in the nature of these ongoing elections. This article shall dwell upon the perceived direction of these elections based upon two “truths” – the obsession with power (and what precisely is this obsession) and the post-poll suspense (which is inextricably intertwined with the obsession).

Let me begin by asserting a disclaimer; one must be extremely cautious in making direct and, often, hasty comparisons with the election scenarios prevailing around the world. It is never a case of apples against apples. While some mechanics adopted in elections in other parts of the world do tend to attract the attention of the media or academicians and thinkers, any adaptation of such mechanics must go through a reasoned scrutiny of their prevalence in the Indian context. That having said, Indian elections have, since the early 90s, sprung unthinkable surprises both at the national (federal) and the state level. While India had a Congress rule for most part of the first 40 years of independent India, the emergence of opposing factions gained distinct prominence with the result that, today, the number of regional and state-level parties possess the ability to make or break a central government. The basis of this emergence is a combination of “divisive politics” (often based on caste, creed, religion or unwarranted regional pride) - often popular but dangerous, and “regional politics” (often based on endorsing and pushing forward benefits for one’s own region) – popular and usually beneficial unless regional politics isolates one region from another or from the country. The Britishers adopted a “divide and rule” policy which worked wonders for a handful of them ruling a nation of millions. Sadly, most leaders of today are adopting a similar policy – directly or indirectly, covert or apparent.

One must ponder at this stage - what is it that sails these divisive people through? What is it that makes them heroic figures and, at times, grab important ministerial berths? The simple answer is – we the people. Through a clever disguised attempt to promote the cause of their own regions or religions, they provoke the people of this country in a way that makes most of us - the voters forget we are Indians first. This is what has caused emergence of important “allies” that can dictate the stability of the central government. They win a significant number of seats in their own regions adding to the number of seats won by either major political party. Gone are the days when the Congress gained absolute majority and not just be the single largest party. The amount of “infidelity” seen amongst regional and fringe parties is unbelievable and causes one to lose faith in the sanctity of polity followed in the largest democracy. The ongoing elections have witnessed an act of bravado displayed by allies of both major political parties – the Congress and the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) – by forming a “Third Front”. The “Third Front” has disintegrated and created a “Fourth Front”. Most members of such nebulous fronts, rulers of their own fiefdom and kingdoms, are playing the “wait and watch” game and are getting ready to strike hard “bargains” with whichever party is the single largest party. But “bargain” on the basis of what? A few top leaders of such fringe parties have expressed a desire to be the next Prime Minister. Many of them shall most likely negotiate on important ministerial berths. Have ideological and policy-induced alliances taken an unfortunate backseat? I would believe so - if Jayalalitha, the general secretary of AIADMK, a Tamil Nadu regional party, says, “a good politician keeps all his options open” and feels proud about it, you begin to question your faith in such parties. I would not attribute such shrewd power-grabbing plans to all parties. For example, one must credit the Left Front (the CPI(M), the CPI and others) for sticking to their ideologies, however anti-liberalist they might be, and not obsessed with ministerial berths or a slice of power. The previous National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government led by the BJP did a decent job at attaining consensus for a lot of their ideologies and policies, even though the BJP had to compromise on a few major policies and was criticized for doing so in a bid to remain in power. The Congress went a few steps ahead in retention of power by allying with the Samajwadi Party (SP), an Uttar Pradesh based regional party, despite an ugly history between the two parties when the Left Front withdrew its support in opposition to the Indo-US nuclear deal. Ideologies and policies have, thereafter, taken a backseat and the apparent sole aim is to retain power.

The creation of the so-called Third Front and Fourth Front has brought about a suspense in the results of the 2009 elections, which is good for a Bollywood thriller movie, but not healthy for India’s democratic health. The best strategists can only guess which way a few members of such fronts will go – for the rest, like the SP, the Bahujan Samaj Party (led by the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati), Rashtriya Janta Dal (led by the current Railways Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav), the Biju Janta Dal (led by the Chief Minister of Orissa Naveen Patnaik) and the Lok Janshakti Party (led by Ram Vilas Paswan), the Almighty alone knows which way they will go. Unless a miracle happens, neither the Third Front nor the Fourth Front will be able to form a government.

My critique of Indian politics is not only focused on such regional and fringe parties. I do not blame them entirely for their “infidelity”. The major political parties – the Congress and the BJP – have often turned around on their ideologies and contradicted themselves on a lot of occasions, often relying on the defense “times change, so do ideologies”. Even on that defense, how would one explain the stand taken by both parties, for example, on the issue of autonomy for the state of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) under Article 370? In the year 2000, when the BJP was in power through the NDA, it had an opportunity to advocate abrogation of Article 370. It did not do so since a few of its allies were vehemently against abrogation (the National Conference now led by Omar Abdullah, the current Chief Minister of J&K, was a part of the NDA). Notably, the Congress party was against the resolution for autonomy at that time. What we see now is that the United Progressive Alliance government is all for autonomy under Article 370 (perhaps, since it has teamed up with Omar Abdullah at the state level in J&K), whereas the BJP considers abrogation as one of its most important action-points. Another reason for disintegration apart from the fact that both major parties contradict themselves as convenient is that a number of such regional allies have deserted either party on the basis of a seat-sharing dispute. For example, the Congress teams up with a number of regional parties in different states and banks on the seats such regional parties win in order to reach the magical figure of 272 seats. The regional parties believe they must have its own party members compete for majority of seats in that region to be elected. The Congress party believes its alliances must allow members of the Congress party to compete against other parties and be promoted by the regional ally for a majority of seats. The belief is guided by arrogance which makes either of them feel they possess a stronger bargaining power. This seat-sharing dispute has undoubtedly added to the suspense consisting in post-poll alliances, but has dampened any ideological faith a voter would otherwise have in such parties.

The 2009 elections shall witness one of the most interesting battles in independent India. Most opinions reveal that the Congress is likely to be the single largest party by a very few votes, even though it will have a tough time in negotiating with allies because negotiations will most likely be hard and business-like. If a single largest party cannot maintain a government because, say negotiations with allies fall flat, the logical next step is a no-confidence motion usually followed by another general election. I do not rule out such a possibility completely. However, regardless of what the results of the 2009 elections are, what’s worrying is that when political execution of divisive parties puts the nation after regional or other interests, India moves one step downhill on the road to fragmentation. History has shown that when such downhill movement reaches saturation, it leads to unrest, riots, disturbances, violent protests and, often, instability in governance. What the leaders of today conveniently forget is that the great freedom fighters that shed blood and sweat for gaining independence from the British rule fought for an independent “India” and not any independent region or state. The regional parties will obtain power and grab important ministerial berths for whatever reasons, but India as a country will go another step towards being a mere conglomeration of different states, regions and religions adding up to a country India rather than being an India consisting of diverse cultures and traditions. Despite being an eternal optimist and a patriot, I am saddened with the direction in which our polity is heading. If only we the voters refrained from clapping on extreme communal and personal rhetoric and elect leaders based on development – not just economic, but social and human development.

I look forward to being proud of Indian leaders at some time in the future, hopefully during my lifetime.

*Kartikeya Tanna is an attorney by profession and is a partner at Tanna Associates, a law firm in the State of Gujarat. Currently, working at the Washington D.C. law offices of Jones Day.

Kartikeya is actively involved in current affairs around the world and has a special interest in politics. He has previously written articles on various issues in finance and economics for various publications. For a detailed biodata of Kartikeya, please visit http://www.jonesday.com/ktanna /"


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