What's the point of an early general election?
We are two important state elections down in recent times, a few more to go before the general elections and you almost feel like yelling ENOUGH ALREADY. If the BJP was afflicted with severe ‘chest thumpingitis’ after the Gujarat elections, the Congress party is prancing like a frolicking puppy after the Karnataka polls. And on the sidelines, the Shiv Sena, Samajwadi Party, Janata Dal (U), Trinamool Congress and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam are rolling up their sleeves for an early election.
Strangely, none of the parties get the message that just because people came out to vote in large numbers, it does not mean that they have also signalled who should occupy the treasury benches in Parliament. The high voter turnout also does not mean that people are not disgusted with the unbridled corruption, debilitating inflation, the lack of safety of women and children, and the falling levels of political discourse in the country. It just means that they only know one way of expressing themselves and that is through the ballot.
When elections come, it ushers in a sense of expectation in the people, that they now have the chance to change things. Whether at municipal, assembly or the general election, there is an overriding sense empowerment among the people that they can shape the future of their district, state or country. These expectations are generated regularly either due to campaign promises or the inherent democratic gene in Indians. When that vote doesn’t bring about positive outcomes quickly, it leads to disappointments and more lately, cynicism. It gives birth to the ‘sab chor hain’ syndrome afflicting us these days where many want to be completely divorced from the political process.
During every election, there is hope that one leader would emerge from the myriad political parties who would inspire a billion plus Indians and would change the way politics is done in India. The astute voter knows that she has to alter her expectation depending on the candidates that political parties give tickets to. With that, the voter decides to grin and bear it and votes the best option available. The BJP was quick to say that the election of Gujarat was an optimistic vote. The Congress on the other hand admits that in Karnataka it was a negative vote that went to their advantage. The BJP says the people of Karnataka punished it for misgovernance but will punish the Congress in the general election for the very same folly! However neither party can confidently say that they have engaged with Indians across the length and breadth of the country about what kind of India they want.
Media organisations and the markets have already started gearing up for the possibility of early elections. There is also a lot of speculation as to which political party is ready for elections; would benefit if elections are held before 2014; is better prepared to form coalitions; has sorted out its Prime Minister candidate; and has got together its campaign funding and campaign pitch ready. What is not factored in is that the people are yearning for these parties to change the political discourse in the country, and they are clueless about how to go about that.
The BJP and the Congress have to project a long term vision with short term goals, optimism backed with agenda, stability minus presupposition of entitlement and an end to crony capitalism. The two state elections have proven that tired slogans of garibi hatao and mandir vahin banayenge are not garnering votes. Nobody believes these promises any more. Voters are also not going to give space for politicians who complain about helplessness in not being able to implement programmes.
While there is no empirical data comparing the way people voted in Gujarat and Karnataka, one can broadly gauge that the focus narrowed to local issues.
There was rejection of the politics of negative communication, high handedness of central leadership, lack of content in political debate and renunciation of doggedness in ideology which hasn’t moved with the times. The two major political parties have a lot of introspection to do before they can go back to voters. They will have to project a leader or at least a team which people can trust, to lead the country for the next five years. Pending that, an early election will have no meaning. The country is waiting to hear from its major parties.
Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on twitter @smitaprakash