Election 2004—A Lesson to the Ruling Party

Category : Essays

"The world is largest democracy has produced one of the most extraordinary electoral turnarounds. The people’s verdict is the product of a three-week-long election in which one million officials moved more than one million tamper-proof voting machines around this vast country, delivering democracy to even the furthest flung region by camel, elephant, boat and helicopter was pretty damning". 

Election 2004 are over. Was it a vote for development, social justice" change ? The answer is complicated as can be expected from a country as diverse a layered as India.

But it can be said that rural and poor India voted against the government because it found the 'India Shining', 'Feel Good Factor' campaign offensive insulting to their poverty and hunger.

India was left out of economic liberalization so that this election was about voice resounding in the nation's consciousness. In this sense it can be argued she was a vote against economic policies that marginalized\ and neglected many particularly the rural and lower middle class and favored the few particularly the affluent.

 However this doesn't explain why the rich cities of India supposedly beneficiaries of this growth voted against their providers. Did cities vote against the politics exclusion and division? Or simply, assert that even in urban India the shining illusionary and that more people are 'feeling bad' compared to those' feeling good— If it was not so then, was this a vote for effective governance? but the defeat of the B M. Krishna government (in Kamataka), arguably, more efficient and productive than the Naveen Patnaik government in Orissa does conform to this notion.

Perhaps it is better not to look for an overarching rationality. India is a full of diversities, contradictions and this election was no different.

 It is really naive to say that the Congress has won the election. They secured only 145 seats out of a total of 543, as against the BJP's 137 seats. I Congress led front secured 216 seats against the BJP led NDA's 188 seats. A Congress has been routed out from MP, Rajasthan, Punjub, Kamataka and Orissa-B has miniscule presence in Bihar, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh (only 15 seat? of 162 seats). So it can't be said as a Congress win.

The BJP's debacle both as leader of NDA and individually is felt very much UP, Bihar and West Bengal. The BJP lost almost 3 8 seats individually and as a partner 62 seats. With these 62 seats for the NDA or 38 seats for the BJP, it would 175 seats for the BJP and 250 seats for the NDA which most of the pre-poll and ca poll surveys predicted for the NDA and the BJP. And election to these three Star (Bihar, UP and West Bengal) is fought on different ideologies and style than the rest of India. In West Bengal it is communism, in Bihar and UP it is caste, religion, money and muscle.

The result of this election reveals that the real issue of development, job. progress etc. is thrown in the back burner. The other reason for the BJP's debacle is lower voter turnout. The urban / middle / upper middle class / richer section of the society, where the BJP's presence is stronger than any other party, do not vote block like communists, Muslims and scheduled caste Hindus do. However, in democracy it is number that matters. Since the Congress has the numbers by any means, it has the right to rule.

In this context the post-poll survey on 'how India voted', conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies and its Lokniti network, makes interesting reading. It shows there is much more to the vote than obvious political lessons, the caste-class arithmetic and alliances.

In Tamilnadu. Kamataka. Andhra Pradesh and some other States the polling pattern shows that drought and shortage of drinking and irrigation water and unemployment were important campaign issues. In Tamil Nadu, for instance, about 50per cent of voters felt that drinking water facilities had deteriorated; 62 percent felt that irrigation supply had gone down. A staggering 71 per cent saw worsened employment opportunities. In high-tech Andhra Pradesh, 57 per cent of the young voters going to opponent Congress meant that the resentment against unemployment had boiled over. Yet another issue sneaks through this analysis. Corruption still matters when people vote. It is not obvious, nor is it talked about. But somewhere Naveen Patnaik whose reputation is as spotless as his performance scores over other achieving Chief Ministers.

 Now the people have spoken that the agenda for change is clear, it must be formulated and implemented. People want their governments to invest in issues that matter to them ; water to drink and to irrigate their crops; education and health and deal with the massive challenge of unemployment in this young country. Investment must be made in a manner that the benefits reach people and are not siphoned off along their cautious and leaky corridors of power. This, however, will demand the reform of the State more than the economic reforms on which so much time and energy is expended, this real reform still awaits the government's notice. It demands the reform of the bureaucratic apparatus so that people are assured of the benefits meant for them.

The two top priorities of this government must be: water and employment. The water agenda will demand governments to go much beyond the rhetoric of supply and targets to implement policies that put water in the hands of communities on the one hand and reduce waste and want on the other. Similarly, the agenda of growth with jobs will demand looking at solutions way out of the industrial-service sector conclave. Jobs have lobe created from the sustainable use of natural resources. Jobs to be created to the rural people and this are not an easy task. We need long-term commitment to reform and highest political will, indeed, devotion to the details of change.

The verdict of Election 2004 projected the ideals of India, where there was always space for dissent and which believed in the challenge of the balance the strength of India lay in the fact that there were never in this country any glaring winners. In this scenario, governance was about balancing contesting and competing interests, with no absolute resolution. When nobody really even won then nobody even lost that way the spoils were shared across a wider platform. The challenge now is to ensure that more and more people 'get' bigger and bigger gains so that all of India can win.

The new Congress government should continue with the major policy initiatives in the areas of international trade, foreign investment and even controversial ones I labour legislation that the BJP had started.

The ultimate objective of economic policy must be to improve the condition of the poorest people and this will mean special effort to arrest the increase inequality of incomes (absolute poverty has declined over the last decade) both \w personal and inter-regional. This will need a lot of imagination, for such a policy succeed only i fit is done while respecting market incentives and continuing to strive for more openness and free trade.

With a coalition of so many parties, there will be demand to give away basic goods at a loss (Andhra Pradesh's new leader, Rajasekhar Reddy, has already promised free electricity to rural areas) and to subsidies a variety of services. ultimate aim of an economic policy should be 'the up liftmen of the poor 'reducing inequality of incomes'. The reforms though good have not produced* tangible results for the vast majority of Indians. There has also been a backlash age the communal politics of the BJP. This is heartening as it proves that the vast major of Indians are secular in their outlook and not theocratic. The Congress also should not think that they have given the mandate to rule as the vote is more against I communal policies of the BJP and the failure of economic liberalization to reaches Indian poor rather than an endorsement of the Congress party. The writing is online ( wall. Efforts have to be made to provide for the hard core poor in India while push ahead with reforms. Basic issues like education, health, clean water and electricity (, employment must be guaranteed. If not this government too will be booted out in next elections.                                                        



I. verdict—judgment, finding, decision. 2. damning—imaging, ruinous, fatal 3. diverse—several, assorted, different, distinct. 4. offensive—assaulting, attacking. 5. marginalized—to exclude or ignore. 6. exclusion—keeping out, rejcclior 7. overarching—forming an arch above or overhead. 8. miniscule—tiny, microscopic. 9. debacle—downfall, collapse, fiasco. 10. reveals—disclose, divulge, id] II. deteriorated—breaking up, breaking down. 12. sneaks—gym shoes, tennis shoes, running shoes. 13. siphoned—pull, drag, attract, move, bring, convey. 14. circuitous- complicated, roundabout. 15. rhetoric—composition, discourse, oratory, oration.  6. dissent—nonconformity, difference. 17. incentives—spur, inducement, motivation, motive. 18. subsidies—support, finance, back,  


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