May democracy have the last laugh
That India wants to speak with its many voices is obvious after the hearteningly higher turnout in the three phases of polling held so far. Election 2014 has been promising as far as ensuring substantially upped participation is concerned, with 93 Lok Sabha seats spread over 11 states, three union territories and 70 assembly segments in Odisha witnessing massive turnouts. Delhi went seven up and registered an average of just under 65 per cent, while Uttar Pradesh, which saw voting being held in 10 seats, experienced over 70 per cent turnout in riot-ravaged regions, particularly Shamli and Muzaffarnagar. This is a phenomenal achievement not only on the part of the election commission, but also a commendable pat on the democratic setup of the country, which kept citizens electorally enthused and politically engaged even in the most bruised and sensitive of areas. It was extremely satisfying to see the streets of the national capital overflowing with enthusiastic first-time voters, who beat the first glares of imminent summer sun and lined up at the polling booths to cast their debut ballots in the national elections. Most of these young voters have never known a political alternative at the centre, with the last decade defined by UPA regime, marked by both welfare and misrule. This is also the decade that saw India’s economic aspirations skyrocket and then take a dip as well as its international clout touch new highs and sink to unforeseen lows. The electorate, armed with right to information, food security, employment guarantee schemes, among others from UPA’s chequered legacy, is now a strong and many-faced force that refuses to accept handovers, in terms of policy and politics. There has been an unprecedented amount of pre-poll communication from the myriad political parties and their candidates to the respective voters and the manifestos, despite their delayed release, have dealt with issues close to many hearts. The democratic exercise of universal franchise remains the leveling act in a country as large and as populous as ours, and India, with its polyphonous ballot bounce, is riding high on the poll fuel. Information, hunger for change, awareness on issues such as inflation, food price, jobs, secularism, identity, women’s safety, gender equality, education, health, housing, digital connectivity, industrial output, better infrastructure, corruption, fuel and transport price, terrorism, national security, and a host of other issues have dominated the headlines and the mindspace of the voters, who have now spoken in a number of ways. Naturally, Congress, it seems is the worst-affected, facing wrath from disgruntled voters after years of gargantuan corruption, and except in northeastern states like Assam, it is likely to face a countrywide rout. However, what the country really needs to choose between is the woozy promise of development overshadowing every other concern and the pledge of a continual civic and political engagement. We must vote in parties and candidates that try answer the burning questions instead of dousing them under the cold waters of sensationalism, divisiveness and personality cults that value men over manifestos.
Interestingly, Congress, which holds 45 of the 91 seats that voted on Thursday, has become synonymous with extremes of sycophancy, corruption, scams and scandals. This is particularly true of Delhi itself, where the party currently holds all seven parliamentary seats, and it is here, that it is likely to receive its biggest blow. The ferocity of the anti-incumbency aside, in the Capital the Aam Aadmi Party and its strategic unsettling of the political establishment have energised the citizens considerably, which will reap rich harvest come 16 May. Delhi’s power makeup has aptly reflected the national scene in the past four general elections, which witnessed BJP and Congress vying for the composition of the Centre. Other than the national capital, states which held polls, including UP, Bihar, Haryana, Odisha, Maharashtra, Kerala, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jammu and Kashmir and union territories such as Chandigarh, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep – witnessed heightened turnout, with only minor incidents in remote corners of naxal-affected regions. This is a logistical miracle, as well as a brilliant achievement on the part of the security personnel, who made a conscious effort to ensure that the biggest democratic exercise in the history of the world doesn’t get marred by undue violence. This is also an excellent antidote to the politics of poison that every party has resorted to in the buildup to the last days of campaigns, with leaders from BJP, Samajwadi Party and Congress indeed taking the top three prizes for most vituperative comments unleashed on the opponents and rival votebanks. Yet, it seems, the indelible ink that marks a true voter, has also left a lasting impression on the collective psyche of the people and the parasocial apparatus which connects them to the splintered political fraternity. The great equaliser, the fundamental basis of our parliamentary democracy, election 2014 is India’s chance to keep its constitutional guarantees.