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Mainstream, VOL. 52, No. 21, May 17, 2014

Thoughts on Elections

Monday 19 May 2014, by Nikhil Chakravartty

From N.C.’s Writings

The following article, published in this journal on March 7, 1998, was one of the last articles of N.C. After this he wrote “Reflections on the Constitution” (Mainstream, March 21, 1998) and “Iraq Crisis and Gujral Government” (Mainstream, March 28, 1998). He died on June 27 of that year.

Crucial though the election results are, they have not come as a surprise. The lakshman-rekha has hardly been crossed by any party which hoped to be a majority in the Lok Sabha.

Commanding a comfortable majority was the prerogative of the previous governments. Not so now. This time the BJP on its own has made a determined bid, but could not succeed, despite the fact that it is very near to the objective; that was, to gain the majority in the Lok Sabha and thereby having an easy time for sweeping its reforms. Thus, there is little possibility of the BJP campaigning for a common civil code or a Ram Janmabhoomi outright at the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya is not likely to take shape despite these having been election issues which the BJP at the beginning raised. As the course of the campaign proceeded, these were submerged in the general desire for stability in government and a stable Prime Minister in Vajpayee. This has become the common slogan when the party went to the polls and particularly during the negotiations with the other so-called “like-minded” parties which the BJP has been able to rope in the course of the campaign.

From Hegde downward to the Trinamul in West Bengal—all are by and large dissidents from the Congress and it was not difficult to know that these dissidents would be satisfied with what the Congress could not given them. In contrast, the Shiv Sena has proved to be a damp squib as far as the BJP is concerned, and it is possible that the dissidents in the BJP in Maharashtra would mouth Congress slogans rather than any other.

The question was put to one of the senior leaders of the United Front. Though it was the UF which did the worst, it is significant that he understood the mood of the public—namely, it would not ask for another poll so soon after the last one. In other words, it is not in the nature of the present mood that there should be frequent elections. Rather, what the common people want is a stable government and not an unstable one—as could be seen from the fact that the voting pattern in the current campaign has not been very different from what it was in the past. It is too early to say that the people are “fed up” with the elections, but it is equally true that too frequent elections would bring into play the law of diminishing returns in the case of the Indian electorate.

It would be fatuous to think that the Indian voter would like to have an impressive progra-mme. Even the question of fighting corruption is in the back-burner. Witess the sweeping record of Jayalalithaa. It is clear that corruption is not going to be an issue that will figure in the months to come. Instead, the voter would behave and move properly so far as corruption is concerned. There will be no fuss or excitement in the matter of corruption, no sensational disclosures. It is significant that even the Bofors did not create the storm which was expected of it. On this, the Congress made the gamble and although it knew that the Bofors would lead to excitement, it is important to note that Sonia Gandhi did take up the issue and the anti-Congress elements did not tkae much advantage out of this. Only the BJP leaders answered whatever Sonia Gandhi raised. Obviously the voter was satisfied with all that has to be said in this connection. Nevertheless, this was one of the weak points in the Congress argument.

By and large, it was the BJP versus the Congress which stirred the voter. Provincially, the BJP had to match Mulayam Singh in UP, while in Maharashtra, it had to do with the paper tiger that was put up by the Shiv Sena. In an overall count, it was the Congress which fought the BJP. Although at places the struggle against the BJP was on the whole managed by the Janata Dal, the fight against the BJP was not the main contribution of the Left, no matter whatever the Left leaders might say on this issue. It was the Congress which stood for secularist values and it was the compromising nature of the United Front which really weakened the fight for secularism. If we count the Muslim votes, we shall see that they too voted expecting the Congress to stand up to the bullying of the BJP than anybody else. In this respect, the congress is yet to settle scores with the BJP and so long as secularism is on the agenda of the democratic order, the Congress will maintain its position if it knows what it stands for.

By and large, the elections have shown the content of the shape of things to come. The debacle of the non-Congress force in Maha-rashtra and Rajasthan has opened up the prospect of the Congress in these two important
States. If the Congress leaders of these two States are able to hold out, then the State-level elections might show the unity of the Congress. Stability lies in this respect so far as Indian democracy is concerned. Here lies the potential of the Congress for the future of the Indian Republic.

No doubt, this is more difficult to be done in UP than in Maharashtra. If the Congress takes a variant of development of the Dalits, it may make a turn-around in UP. But in UP a far deeper proble is necessary if the Congress has to rehabilitate itself from the style of the UP of the forties and fifties. Meanwhile, the coherents have to be removed whether those thrown up by the Kanshi Ram factor or by Mulayam Singh’s Samajwadi factor. This means the Congress would hve to do a lot of spring-cleaning if it has to change its face in UP. At the moment it is in a sorry state of affairs so far as UP is concerned. Whether one likes it or not, a very drastic change will have to be brought about if the Congress has to change its face in UP. It has to be a new orientation which the decrepit leadership of the Congress can hardly undertake. Then only will the face of Indian politics change—not before. This has to be brought about by changing the visage of the villages which can be done only if those in charge of the political parties reorientate themselves. Then shall Parliament become the real tribune of the people of India. Not otherwise.

(Mainstream, March 7, 1998)