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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 18, New Delhi, April 23, 2016

Our Elections often field the Worst of Leaders—Kerala does it again for Chandy’s People

Monday 25 April 2016, by T J S George

IMPRESSIONS

Trust Kerala to make the impossible possible. It is a holy tenet of the Congress Party’s culture that the High Command be implicitly obeyed; no one ever dreams of going against its wishes. Kerala’s Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has not only broken the sacred code, he has actually bullied the High Command into accepting his wishes. Two Ministers in particular had become steeped in corruption and Rahul Gandhi wanted to keep them out of this election. Chandy threatened that if the Ministers were denied tickets, he himself would stay away. The black-mail worked. Ministers the public perceived as kings of corruption got their tickets.

The public can of course punish the politicians by voting them out. But the tainted Chandy Ministers will almost certainly win. That is where Indian democracy’s weaknesses remain unresolved. Only during one historical period since the Republic came into being did the electorate take a collective decision to throw out the tainted; after the Emergency, not only was the Congress humiliated across the board, but Indira Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi were defeated in their own fortresses.

Barring this exception, our democracy’s electoral record has been inauspicious, even perilous. To see the extent of the peril, we only have to look at UP and Bihar. Despite vulgar displays of megalomania at state expense, Maya-wati gets re-elected in UP. The Mulayam Singh leadership takes mafia leaders into the Cabinet; one of them kills a police officer and his only punishment is losing his Ministership. In Bihar convicted criminals are taken into leadership positions in the ruling party. There were instances of gangsters contesting parliamentary elections from inside jails and winning handsomely.

Our politicians have become masters of the electoral game. From management of voters’ lists to booth-control techniques, they know how to do what, leaving no chance to the “amateurs”. This is why citizens like Nandan Nilekani, Infosys co-founder, and Meera Sanyal, the distinguished banker, get defeated while underworld don Arun Gawli becomes an elected representative of the people. Don’t forget that George Bush won his second presidential term on the strength of 537 votes in Florida where his brother Jeb, as the Governor, oversaw wide-spread manipulations such as purging from the electoral rolls 57,700 names, mostly Black and therefore potentially anti-Bush voters. Strange are the ways of democracy.

IN Kerala, despite Oommen Chandy’s seeming victory, the situation has never been messier. He is the shrewdest political chess-player the State has seen, but he might have overplayed his hand this time. For one thing, his party is split into myriad groups and many of them are bound to work against the approved candidates. For another, the way he forced the hand of the High Command will haunt him in the days ahead.

Hints have already come from Delhi—that going against the High Command is not acceptable, that there will be a review of the situation post-elections. That means that even if the Congress alliance manages to get a majority in the elections, the new Congress-led govern-ment will not have Oommen Chandy as its leader.

But is there a chance at all of so tainted a regime getting re-elected? Even last week fresh scandals were hitting the headlines. Yet another order to grant government land to private interests had to be withdrawn following public protests; the audit report on last year’s South Asia Games in Trivandrum has revealed financial irregularities on a massive scale. Oommen Chandy’s best hope is that there is a general apprehension about Communist boss Pinarayi Vijayan becoming the Chief Minister. Vijayan is a party machine, not a people’s leader like V.S. Achuthanandan. If the latter had been projected as the Left Front’s chief ministerial candidate, victory would have been certain and decisive. But Vijayan, who scares people, has the party behind him with the backward-thinking Prakash Karat faction in Delhi backing him. The question boils down to whether the people’s desire to get rid of the Oommen Chandy regime is stronger than their desire to not have a Pinarayi Vijayan regime. The lingering possibility that it might be, at least to begin with, a V.S. Achuthanandan regime might tilt the balance in favour of the Left Front.

What a pity that Ministers get easily drunk on power. Missing from their character is the inner refinement to realise that power used for the common good yields more satisfaction than power used to enrich oneself. They don’t pause to think that the boast of heraldry, the pomp of power and all that wealth ever gave, await alike the inevitable hour.