Forced mourning of democracy
Today 64 seats of the nine phase general election go to polls. The build up to this round of polls have been extraordinary with BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi and the most charismatic face from Congress Priyanka Gandhi locking horns. With this the on-going political soap opera on the small screen has found increased viewership and the divide between Kapil Sharma’s comedy show and the on-going political fracas has got almost blurred.
Your reporter in the past 45 days had the chance to travel through six major states whose electorate wield a remarkable influence on the nature of results. This is the sixth general election covered by your journalist, in addition to the several assembly polls in between. The challenge to gauge the mood of the voter has never been bigger than these elections. During these elections BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi has given a new meaning to campaign through holding humongous rallies days after day. Since September last year, when Modi rolled out a new concept of campaign starting with the ex-servicemen rally, it has been a story of big rallies everyday mobilising party cadres and supporters.
Through these rallies he doesn’t purport to address just the crowds present at the rally ground, though there is a segment dedicated to them too in his speeches. Using the
presence of television cameras he makes a concerted effort to reach out to the audience across the nation. This has forced his rivals especially the Congress party to get engaged similarly and talk back through the rallies and the television.
This is a marked departure from the conventional style of campaign where the local leadership too was to play an important role in the ideological mobilisation of the voters. The role of the local cadres in the highly personality based and technologically spurred campaign has been reduced to those of ‘political escorts’ ensuring that the voters reach the polling station.
The election commission, however, would object to giving credit to the political parties alone for the increasing turnout of the voters at the polling booths. The poll panel in its own way has been trying to popularise the idea of ‘need to vote’ by various mediums including advertisement, interactive programmes and cultural shows. Coming back to this new culture of campaign, rallies have completely dominated the local elements in politics. It has given rise to a trend wherein, especially in the case of the national parties, the local leader has been reduced to the state of non-entity. Lest this be construed to be a criticism of Modi-centric campaign, it’s also equally true for the Congress and the new player in politics, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
This in the process has also led to the stripping of the campaign of all colours, with which Indian elections were identified. None of the constituencies which your reporter visited did show any signs of the town or the village going to the polls. In the absence of banners, posters, flags and buntings, the festive look of the democracy has come to be replaced with that of public mourning. The poll mood gets noticed only when a political leader comes out for a road show in addition to the rallies which has come to be identified the most distinguishing feature of the campaign. This has led to the campaign crystalising towards debates witnessed in the presidential form of government. Though the Congress has not formally announced that Rahul Gandhi is their prime ministerial candidate but there is no stopping the perception that the polls are being contested under his leadership.
The discourse in the newspapers too is on the similar lines. It’s full of what Modi said and how Priyanka replied, or otherwise. With the local flavour out, the local issues too have got almost steamrolled. The question now before us is, has our democracy been stripped of local hue and colours or is it showing the signs of shifting towards a new ‘avatar’? A certain section of politicians and thinkers have always believed that the local issues should be the last on the priority list of the agenda for the Lok Sabha polls.
Having said that I must say that they fail to understand that local hue is intrinsic to the makeup of an Indian politician. Our three-tier democratic process starting at the panchayat and/or municipal level graduates to the level of state legislature and then finally the parliament. There are several Indian leaders who have come up the three-tier way. Moreover Indian administrative system through programmes like MP or MLA local area development fund increases the scope of interaction and accountability of the members of parliament and the local MLAs with the electorate. Thus its misplaced thinking that local elements in politics can get completely wiped out from the process of the Lok Sabha polls. Therefore even at the height of their popularity, neither the Congress nor the Opposition conglomerate could reduce their rivals to a state of non-existence. Despite the ‘non-presence’ of political colours in the local arena, there is one thing for sure that the voter turnout is proving to be very credible. The revision of electoral rolls, the easy process for registration of voters and decrease in the cases of booth –level violence has encouraged both the poll agencies and political parties to draw people out.
Having drawn people out, a thought has to be given on what are the factors which should influence voting. It should just be the pre-dominance of the national agenda, or the local issues would also be allowed to have a play. My answer is that there should be balance between both.
The author is with Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice, and is Consulting Editor,