Greatest democratic show on earth to begin

April 15, 2009

(C. Uday Bhaskar is a New Delhi-based strategic analyst. The views expressed in the column are his own.)

Uday BhaskarIf elections are the single most visible element of the democratic experience, the biggest show on earth is all set to unfold on Thursday when a large percentage of more than 700 million voters will participate in the first phase of the 15th Indian general elections to the Lok Sabha – the lower house of the Indian parliament.

It is expected that up to 400 million Indians will cast their votes and yes, many of them are among the poorest of the poor – afflicted by what is euphemistically referred to as the ‘DAD’ syndrome – those who earn a dollar a day.

But this in no way detracts from the excitement and enthusiasm with which the average Indian participates in the general election.

As elections go, there is nothing to match the scale and diversity of these mega events and all kinds of statistical records and distinctive accomplishments are achieved.

Elections are about who comes to power through the ballot box – but it also engenders the most vile, venal and reprehensible practices that range from intimidation and politically motivated killing of rival candidates to bribing and other forms of inducement.

One hapless candidate, Vijay Bahadur Sonker of the little known Indian Justice Party who had entered the fray from Jaunpur in Uttar Pradesh – India’s most populous state – was found hanging from a tree on April 13. Earlier a candidate from Orissa was killed by local left wing extremists.

But on balance, the Indian Election Commission does a highly commendable job over the one month long period – and the final phase will conclude in mid May when a new government will be in place in Delhi.

The ballot does triumph over the bullet in India every five years and this resilience makes it a distinctive entity in the troubled southern Asian region.

The principal contestation is between the Congress-led UPA coalition with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the helm (though Sonia Gandhi is the President of the Congress party and the main crowd puller) and the BJP-led NDA coalition whose PM in waiting is Lal Krishna Advani.

In the run up to the voting on April 16, the campaigning and sloganeering has been shrill and no-holds-barred.

The audio-visual medium provides a much wider cost-effective reach and TV debates are 24×7 in myriad languages. But it would be misleading to infer that TV is the only domain where the slug-fest is going on.

Much of India is neither glued to TV or cyber-space savvy and ultimately the rural voter at the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum will determine who will form the government in Delhi.

The key states will be Uttar Pradesh (80 seats), Maharashtra (48), Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal (42 each), Bihar (40) and Tamil Nadu (39) that between them contribute almost 54 percent of the 543 member Lok Sabha.

Paradoxically, all these states have very strong regional parties and barring Andhra Pradesh where the Congress Party is in power currently, the two major national parties are on a weak wicket in these states.

Hence the relevance of the regional party in these elections. Most pre-poll surveys indicate that neither the Congress nor the BJP is likely to cross the 150 mark individually and hence a coalition government is inevitable.

Thus the birth of the ‘third’ and ‘fourth’ fronts which are a rainbow of regional and caste based groupings and they will be the critical ‘swing’ factor for forming the next government in Delhi.

The paradox continues, for despite the global perception that India has now entered the league of major powers, no single national issue dominates the current election campaigns and manifestos.

Employment and better socio-economic conditions encapsulated in the local jingles – ‘roti, paani, kapada, makaan, bijli, sadak’ (bread, water, clothing, housing, electricity, roads) – are the dominant themes and all kinds of inducements are on offer. These include rice at Rs 2 per kilogram and other subsidies – the fiscal deficit be damned!

On balance the elections will be free and fair and the penchant to play on identity – whether religion, caste or ethnicity will be strong. But the Indian voter is savvier with the passage of every such exercise and the communication revolution ranging from TV, radio and the mobile phone has introduced a level of connectivity and awareness that is unprecedented.

Yet the ultimate challenge is to ensure that the conduct of robust and enthusiastically participatory elections translates into equitable and corruption-free governance.

This Holy Grail has been elusive and hence the many distortions in the Indian democratic experience – but the contestation is a necessary first step and will be exhilarating.

Watch this space!

Comments

I am tottally uninvolved so far. Elections are a waste of time. All these corrupt and useless old people will come to power as usual and India will go downhill. If a Third Front comes to power, things can only get worse.

Posted by Harish Kapoor | Report as abusive
 

BJP should come back for the very survival of the Nation from the hands of Cong and Commies.

Posted by Narayan | Report as abusive
 

Sikhs pay Rs 20 million in Jizia to Pak Taliban

Islamabad, April 16: Members of Pakistan’s minority Sikh community living in the restive Aurakzai tribal region have paid Rs 20 million as “tax” to the Taliban after militants forcibly occupied some of their homes and kidnapped a Sikh leader.The Taliban had demanded Rs 50 million as ‘Jizia’ – a tax levied on non-Muslims living under Islamic rule – but the militants finally settled for Rs 20 million. After the amount was paid yesterday, the militants vacated the homes they had taken over and released Sikh leader Saiwang Singh, officials in the tribal region near the northwestern city of Peshawar were quoted as saying by the Daily Times newspaper. The officials said the Taliban had announced that the Sikhs were now free to live anywhere in Aurzakzai Agency. The militants also announced they would protect the community, saying that no one would harm them after they had paid Jizia. Sikhs who had left the area would now return to their homes and resume their business, the officials said.The militants had occupied at least 10 homes of Sikhs in Qasimkhel village on Tuesday. About 35 Sikh families have been living in Qasimkhel for many years. The Taliban demand for Jizia was resolved at a jirga or council held yesterday through the efforts of local tribal elders. The militants had said the Sikhs should pay Jizia in accordance with Shariah or Islamic law.

Uday,

Democracy and secularism will protect all citizens, look at whats going on in our neighborhood. Thats why elections are necessary, regardless of sychophants/ corrupt people doning politicians coat

 

First of all Thanks To Mr.Uday sir to write this blog. This election compare
to any other general election have more thrill and excitement in terms of
communication conversation media and people awareness. But is it really as
democratic country left? I mean we all are just become puppet of so called
idiots politician (not all) who wants our vote cause he belongs to our
religion caste some time region or some time as he is royal. Still the true
meaning of democracy is just minimized towards having a party system and
voting system that’s it, nothing more than that.

50 years congress suck blood of this country than BJP comes (except
development by Atalji and Initiative taken by Indira Gandhi and P V Narsima
Roa) no other has done some thing good for this country post 1971. We are
divided b/w two alliance theory at centre and regionally sick with regional
parties. I mean where that time of 1975 went where indria and sanjay Gandhi
could not manage their seat just because they betray country where that true
democracy buried. We are still vote rahul sachin scindia priya, just because
the hierarchy says so.. I mean still that autocracy mind set prevails in our
mind. Other than Gandhi why no one able to head congress, why various
regional party gift their power share to their sons and we accept.
Disgusting in true sense where still the real democratic system is dyeing at
people laps.

We need party with Vision Democratic system with proper rules and some
restriction (its required to be some stick at ur head) where people from the
system and among the society comes and make the real difference in true
sense. Not like they come from society and later distance themselves from
it.

A true democracy currently needs real cause and real concern above caste
religion and personal ambition. There should be only one agenda progress for
country for all and must for every individual. No compromise on security
economic development and pro capitalist in mind and socialist in heart.
Democracy needs people who can be accountable to the system, not like empty
accounts of system.

Last but not the least, Still we have hopes from nothing some thing is
better till than we need to build a system of true democracy.

Posted by Amit Daga | Report as abusive
 

As the article says National parties donot have presence in top 6 major states, ie 54%.
1) So they are not national parties, they are big parties 2) The top 6 states are doing good and most of the administration are done by Regional parties, so it is only correct to allow regional parties to rule based on their numbers 3) According to constitution whoever has support of 272 can rule this country, doesn’t require to be National party

Posted by Badri | Report as abusive
 

YES THIS INCIDENT IS BOLT ON THE NAME LAW AND ORDER SITUATION BUT THEY SHOULD NOT GO SCOT FREE. MAY GOD BLESS OUR LEADER AND GIVE THEM MIND TO RULE THE COUNTRY IN HONEST WAY

 

Post Your Comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
  •