If communal riots are happening in Uttar Pradesh, then it must be election season. This ghastly truth is repeated unfailingly. A magazine cover says “Everybody loves a Riot” and draws parallels between votes polled and the riots organised. Pre-election months are that dark time when politicians make promises that they have no intention of fulfilling. They also take actions that they will never admit in public. This includes making inflammatory speeches, planning and condoning riots and targeted killing. As if on cue, election means lying. Read their lips, they lie.
We don’t need fact checkers to tell us that politicians lie. The irony is that we know they lie and yet we involuntarily believe them. We regurgitate their faux statistics and assertions. We want to be gullible. It is that Bollywood escapism where you visit Switzerland via a Yash Chopra film in Rs 200 without the big money or the hassle of visas, immigration and jet lag. Who wants reality? Do we really want to hear that neither the BJP nor the Congress, nor Jayalalitha, Mamata, Akhilesh or Nitish can stop communal and caste related killing, cannot provide good roads, efficient garbage disposal, medical care for the poor, or community kitchens for the hungry? No, we would rather hear how kids will get laptops, never mind that schools don’t have toilets or classrooms, and houses don’t have electrical connections. But we still lap up that nice sounding promise of Right to Education.
Wonder if a 12-year old can actually go to a police station and file an FIR against the government because her Right to Education was not fulfilled? Can a citizen take a Food and Civil Supplies minister to Court because his Right to Food was not fulfilled? The irony is not lost that Garibi Hatao was promised in 1971 and the Right to Food comes about in 2013. Roti, Kapda aur Makaan! Not done. Nobody keeps those darned promises. Not even when they get two or three consecutive terms to fulfill them.
In the past few weeks, the two main political candidates Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi have been selling us dreams. Their camps claim that 200,000-300,000 people brave the sun, spend their own money, and walk several miles to hear those charming promises. Right, we believe you.
Election promises are broken every time elections are held. This ought to have made people apathetic or cynical. Amorphous slogans of secularism, health care to all, wipe every tear from every eye, tax the rich, empower the poor, defeat terror — generalities form the core of most speeches. Imagine if a politician says “Mai jhoothe vade nahii karoonga, mai gareebi nahii hata sakta.” (I won’t make false promises, I cannot eradicate poverty). Would such a politician ever stand a chance of winning his seat? Dr Manmohan Singh actually made such speeches in South Delhi in 1999. He lost.
If you watch too much TV, you would be pessimistic about the entire election scenario: broken promises, duplicity of politicians, and paucity of fresh ideas. It is at best, elevator conversation or bar talk. Does it really matter what they promise? Does anybody do number crunching on how Bharat Nirman or India Shining is showcased only a year before elections. It is easier to make promises thick and fast because nobody can hold you to them. As Machiavelli said, “Politics have no relations to morals.”
There is no system of checks and balances in India. Nobody is elected because of her competency or effectiveness. But she could get booted out for the same. Notice how some Lok Sabha MPs have stopped visiting their constituencies. You can be certain they are looking for ‘safer’ constituencies because they did not deliver on their promises. And the real cowards will seek to enter the Rajya Sabha.
But this is a global phenomenon. Barack Obama made five promises in his first term that he didn’t keep: health care for all, close Guantanamo, defend labour rights, reform Patriot Act, and end wars. He got Osama, and got re-elected. The Hopey-Changey thing did not happen but a second term certainly did.
It is perhaps naive to expect scrupulous honesty from our leaders, especially in an election season. Let us face it: these electoral promises are made to be broken. Some might be fulfilled, not by commitment but only by chance. We live in the hope for those.
Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on Twitter @smitaprakash