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Voting in Elections 2013 in India


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Analyzes why new voters are joining the elections in 2013 in India and what this portends for the general election 2014 and how the principal adversaries are reacting to the situation

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Voting in Elections 2013 in India

  1. 1. Election 2014: Charade or Solution-I Barun Kumar Basu Writing over five decades ago, the highly-respected Progressive American political scientist Elmer Eric Schattschneider pertinently noted “The flaw in the pluralist heaven is that the heavenly chorus sings with a strong upper-class accent.” For him the essence of political conflict was the scope of participation. Since in any situation the number of apathetic outnumbers those involved, competition between winners and losers in the original policy dispute gave incentives to the losers to enlarge the scope of conflict. “Alliances are formed and re-formed; fortresses, positions, alignments and combinations are destroyed or abandoned in a tremendous shuffle of forces redeployed to defend new positions or to take new strong points. In politics the most catastrophic force in the world is the power of irrelevance which transmutes one conflict into another and turns all existing alignments inside out.” Schattschneider may indeed have been a happy man had he lived (sadly he passed away in 1971) to witness the run-up to Elections 2013-14. Relatively high polling percentages in State assembly elections in recent weeks show people emerging from the closet and exercising their electoral muscle. Just who are these hitherto closeted voters and what makes them probable game-changers in Elections 2013-14? Exposed to external influences, post-1991 GenNext, with their 200 million new voters, is the product and beneficiary of liberalization. They have access to job opportunities my son’s generation never had. For them, the Internet is just a mouse click away with staggering mountains of information. Social networking sites across the world have enabled Indian youngsters to imbibe the values of democratic nations, for better and worse. GenNext is also witness to the dismantling of totalitarian empires and the expression of human freedom worldwide. The state having shrunk in terms of the patronage it once had, GenNext also, no longer, is as dependent on the State for job opportunities. A rapidly expanding and aggressive private sector has expanded the vistas of the State in trade and commerce and even gone overseas into a New World of their own, basing them on GenNext that retains active contact with their ilk back home. State-sponsored enterprise has been miserably exposed to GenNext by benchmarking with the private sector and global standards of efficiency. GenNext also reads sordid tales of underhand benefits accruing to politicians and bureaucrats from subterfuges like Private-PublicPartnerships and so-called joint ventures. Yet GenNext has risen and shone mainly of their own steam, is fiercely zealous of their rights (though not always their obligations), not dependent upon state largesse and lives in an India they rightly believe has the potential to be a superpower, but for the frigidity of its political class, cutting across party lines. There is politics in education, health services, and provision of water and railway lines, scholarships, jobs, and trade licenses for the unemployed, indeed every walk of life. There is little reason for fulfillment and expectations of equity and fair play anywhere for GenNext. 1
  2. 2. Vigilante groups affiliated to political parties that storm bars and nightclubs and bully teenagers in the name of religious conservatism, rape of women who are GenNext’s mothers, sisters and wives, legislatures that suddenly guillotine matters of the greatest socio-economic importance such as anti-corruption laws, an antiquated, overloaded and understaffed legal system that offers little or no redress, the non-existence/failure of administrative grievance redressing mechanisms in governance and the repeated attempts to undermine institutions such as the Information Commissions – all this and much more is but a full bottle of bitter pills for GenNext, as it is for their seniors. However, such pills, unlike Valium, do not kill, but energize anger in GenNext in dangerous ways. GenNext faces steadily rotting State-operated university systems that denies admission to students with 95% and above in Class 12 in school but these very students top the merit list for entry into the London School of Economics and Harvard University. Those with lower marks must make do with ramshackle underfunded colleges and indifferent teachers who lack even elementary teaching skills and commitment, least of all any accountability. The school education system spawns generations of students who are unable to comprehend the goingson in the world around them; hence the likes of Baba Ramdev emerge as leaders. For lowest academic performers from university, there are no worthwhile vocational training colleges that would empower them to lead their lives respectably, instead turn them to a life of crime or unwillingly work as semi-indentured labor or menials in a service agency even as rebellion rises to a crescendo in them. Even for outstanding students, academic curriculum is but a deflated bladder that has too many holes to repair and make it rise once again. Lessons on morality and ethics, basic laws, etc. that would influence and educate GenNext against any waywardness do not even figure in school and university curricula. Therefore when such a rebellious GenNext member is caught over speeding on Rajpath and promptly fined Rs. 500, but finds the constable ready to let him go in return for Rs. 250 getaway bribe, the youngster is happy even as the corrupt system ensnares him and he learns to live life king-size, bribing his way through life. There is none to guide him back into a relatively more virtuous mainstream. It is but natural for GenNext to be peeved when prominent members of the political class speak of traveling “cattle class” while others utter “theek hai” in moments of grave crisis, as if the nation with 40% of its total voters being people below the age of forty years are no more than obedient cows that must bow to the arrogance of the leaders they elected. Twitterati and FBians, litter our political spaces even as citizens are increasingly reduced to mere statistics on Excel work sheets. That India now possesses a power-packed GenNext after India’s world opened up in 1991 did not matter to the political class that, nonetheless, retained its hard-handed arbitrariness eternally grouted in the colonial past. Disconnect between the rulers and the ruled could never have been greater. Consider the fact that 40% of India’s population is between 18 and 49 years of age, own about 450 million votes that, in turn, may translate to about 225 seats in the Lok Sabha in 2014. Indeed, Mr. Modi made an apt start by addressing this key constituency from Delhi’s Shriram College of Commerce. Another similarly-sized or much larger is the 329 million-strong women’s group, of which 201 million are in rural areas. In fact, Census 2011 clearly shows that even with a depressed 64.64% literacy rate, there are over an additional 100 million literate women now, almost equal with their male counterparts, which have a substantially higher 80.89% literacy 2
  3. 3. rate. What should worry our political parties is the fact that in rural areas, female literacy has expanded from 46.13% in 2001 to 57.93 in 2011, i.e. by about 12%. Against these figures, the male literacy rate stands at 70.70% to 77.15% from 2001 to 2011, i.e. about 7%. Even in urban areas, female literacy rose by 6.25% while male literacy rose by just 2.49%, although the urban sex ratio is more skewed in favor of males at 929 against 949 in rural India. States like Madhya Pradesh which recorded extraordinarily high voting turnouts, have added 6 million literate women, with 4 million in rural areas, the same as men, although the overall sex ratio is 929. This trend is identical in Chhattisgarh that had the added bonus of a more favorable sex ratio of 955. Let us also remember that the vast tribal tracts of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh also contain substantial historically neglected subalterns in India. In contrast, Gujarat turns in figures similar to the other two states but with a more adverse 919 sex ratio, 880 in rural areas, a worrisome trend, and pointer to female infanticide, yet another cause for women to vote. An interesting phenomenon thus seems to emerge. While there is continuing migration to cities, yet the accretion in male literacy rates is below the parity level whereas women, both urban and rural have, in the last decade, educated themselves enough to be able to perhaps distill the gibberish being dished out on regional TV channels by political parties from the sane and doable. This section of society that numbers 587 million, of which 406 million is in rural India, has also added about 45-46 million heads each in rural and urban areas, the same as males in 2011 over 2001. The decline of dependency ratio from 794 in 1991 to 752 in 2001 and further to 652 in 2011 shows that with rising education, more women are joining the work force even as birth rates are declining. It is thus evident that female education and decline in birth rates (young dependency sharply declined from 621 to 510 in the last decade) may correct historically skewed sex ratios in another half a century and that women may account for a larger proportion of the vote in Elections 2013-14, also for reasons explained in the following paragraph. Females are also the worst affected in several respects. An unending industrial recession meant loss of jobs, depressed wages, high inflation and attendant rising costs of food, fuel, daily necessities, children’s education, transport costs, et al. The buck stops with the female head of the household. All these factors are compounded by open sexual and often mindless discrimination in matters of employment, absence of any social and job security, low wages, uncertain working hours and often violent work environments, irrespective of age. The rural and urban slum woman also has to trudge several kilometers every day for potable water for her family. When she silently watches her children living off two chappatis and green chilies washed down with brackish water and then retire for the night in climatic extremities, mostly without a quilt in winter or even a fan in summer, her anger knows no bounds. Quacks and ojhas substitute for doctors and midwives, while roots and shoots, often poisonous, are substitutes for life-saving medicines. The author is a retired Ambassador of India 3
  4. 4. Election 2014: Charade or Solution-II Barun Kumar Basu When one considers that about 39 million families (maybe 80-120 million voters), in rural and urban India, still live in homes that have thatched/grass roof while 22.1% of rural households in 2011 have water sources located away from their homes, up from 19.5% in 2001, that 51.9% of India’s rural population depends on unfiltered water in 2011, up from 43.2% in 2001, or nearly 28% of rural India has no kitchens inside their homes and 45 million households, 24% of population overall, cannot afford less labor-intensive fuels such as LPG and have to make do with crop residue, these are bound to translate into a rising tide of resentment against rulers. Surprisingly, in Chhattisgarh, the percentage of households using crop residue has declined to 6.90% in 2011 from 10.60% in 2001 while in rural areas these percentage has declined to just 5.60% in 2011 from 9% in 2001, in contrast to 9.90% in Maharashtra and stagnant at about 17.50% in Rajasthan. It is but natural that female voters having weathered all storms since 1947 have accumulated ample grievances even as they are increasingly educated and aware and hence are likely to have voted/vote with all ten fingers on their worn-out fingers. Then there are the minority communities, particularly Muslims, who number 138 million, i.e. about 9% of India’s total population of which about 30 million or about a fourth are concentrated in Uttar Pradesh while another 14 million live in Bihar. In contrast, about 4.50 million Muslims populate Gujarat. Let us not forget that even if we pro rate Muslim young and women over India’s approx. 725 million voting population (approx. 60% of total population) aged 18 and above, Muslims would account for a tidy 85-90 million votes. Add to these, are the rising number of scheduled caste (SC) graduates (2.31 million) in their 167 million populations and a relatively minuscule 3.05 million illiterate population (that includes children below age 7) who may account for another 100-105 million votes. Then there are 84.32 million scheduled tribes (ST) who boast of only 2 million young voters that have educational qualifications of high and school and above who too would account for about 45-50 million votes. Between them, these three subaltern communities alone may account for 230-245 million votes or a third of the total available votes and perhaps 85-90 Lok Sabha seats. The historic leadership of these communities that vested in opportunistic leaders that have left these communities high and dry in the last six decades plus of Independence also opens a path for alternative leaders such as Mr. Modi. The intriguing silence from such regional parties in this unsavory debate is proof that they will yet again forsake their traditional constituencies, many subaltern, and opportunistically team with the winner who may be PM if his party crosses the 180-190 Lok Sabha seats’ mark. Why give such fissiparous elements the chance to play kingmakers when voters are willing to listen to reason and good sense and elect a single party without suffering their circus-like antics that may also cause early burn-out for Mr. Modi? Failure to avail of this opportunity may well keep India in medieval times at least insofar as these subalterns are concerned. 4
  5. 5. Since Census 2011 data is not available on the Internet, polemics over reservations apart, the vast majority of these populations still appear to work fields, are marginal farmers and unskilled labor that may not have benefitted, often eking out sub-human livelihoods. Yet a percolation effect from the young brigade, many that have obtained State benefits is visible in increasing rage and frustration at public events and the first attempts at redefining their roles in India’s polity and claiming their rightful share as manifested in AMU’s last Vice-Chancellor whose progressivism cost him his job but earned students’ respect. Respected Muslim clerics too are doing their bit in arousing awareness of the need to vote to drag development to their doorstep. While analyses of subaltern voting patterns in Election 2013 may yet take a while, it is evident that SC & STs who dominate large tracts in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh came out in unheard of numbers to vote recently. If this trend continues, each block of 2 million votes of their 230-245 million votes may determine as many as 115-123 Lok Sabha seats in Election 2014. Adding punch to vote banks described above, is the media, with an ever increasing outreach. India boasts of about 116.50 million television sets covering 47.20% of the population. In addition, there are 23.36 million computers covering 9.50% with about 160 million Internet-connected users (including mobile networks and 22 million 3G users) while 156 million telephone connections cover 63.20% of India’s population with an annual growth rate over about 20% in the last five years or so. Supplementing all these are 49 million radio/transistor sets with a fifth of the population. Add to this about 81500 km of newly laid rural roads connecting about 40000 habitations and 1.60 lakh km of rural roads, although way below the targets of 1.46 lakh km of new roads covering 54648 habitations and 1.94 lakh km of upgraded roads. NHAI too has cumulatively added about 18600 km. of national highways in the last decade. Connectivity owing to improved roads, Internet, television and radio, in tandem with rise in education and gradual rise in living standards has thus fuelled a wave of rising expectations and rapid exchange of information in the last decade. At the same time, those deprived of the benefits of such revolutions-in-tandem have every reason to switch allegiances to force development to their doorsteps. Notwithstanding major socio-economic and demographic changes some of which have been outlined above, the campaign for Election 2014 is far from commensurate with the tide of rising expectations, instead utterly oblivious to the consequences of such terminal blindness. Every word uttered during this campaign instantly brings us back to Schattschneider’s prophetic words “The flaw in the pluralist heaven is that the heavenly chorus sings with a strong upperclass accent.” Even as the demand of voters is contemporary, the response of our sparring PM hopefuls is antediluvian. Least do our politicians realize that their base of power has dramatically shifted and the upper middle crust matters little in Election 2014. Given such major demographic and socio-economic changes in India in the last decade, the campaigns for Elections 2013-14 reek of quasi-gutter talk, rebuke, insult, innuendo, mimicry propelled while civility instead finds itself in the gutter. High-voltage media coverage and inane media debates are beamed and broadcast live on mobile phones, telephones, the nukkad ka panchayat TV set and mega screens in urban public places. Little do political superstars realize that our indigenous numerous eyes in the skies beam these juvenile, even imbecilic, tu-tu-mainmain exchanges live to an increasingly educated and connected, despondent and angry voter. 5
  6. 6. Election 2014 is all about government and authority, least of all governance and welfare that attracts the usual inventory of vintage submerged wood and privileged young men, and cadre fanatics, in equally uncouth measure. Since I am not a voluble national TV newscaster, I cannot claim that the nation demands answers. I can only mumble, in all humility, that voters deserve answers. Manifestos are unknown, personal sacrifices by politician superstars in the ‘national interest’ are passé; instead what comes to therefore is an utter contempt for the voter who is taken for a continuing sucker with promises of cash transfers and unskilled employment. A lineup of wannabe Ministers is not introduced to voters, no image of a futuristic resurgent Bharat is projected; there is no national vision, no national pride, and no national and international plans of action, something that even Mamata Didi did not fail to showcase in her first 100 days in office. After all, Gujarat is not the ideal development model. Regrettably, Mr. Modi has still not been able to tell his voters on why they should vote for him. For neither is Gujarat India and India Gujarat, nor the nation, BJP and Congress RaGa or NaMo’s respective personal fiefdoms.In fact, Mr. Modi’s silence on his manifesto is fuelling apprehensions of his ‘true’ intentions, some Facebookwallahs even comparing him to Hitler, a walk-over in a football match in which the nation is the ball. For an economy that has all but crashed, in which manufacturing and exports have ground to a virtual halt, domestic industry is unwilling to invest, onions are more expensive than a liter of petrol, people have no jobs, the current Election 2014 campaign holds out no hope. We now have a Pak Army Chief who must hold India responsible for killing his two brothers in wars with India, China that has driven ONGC Videsh Ltd. out of the Vietnamese oil wells in the South China Sea, walks into Arunachal and Ladakh as it were an evening walk without much challenge, a Bangladesh deprived of Teesta waters in an election year, regional parties dictating whether our PM should attend the CHOGM in Sri Lanka, yet no superstar politician promises any credible and visible alternative. If Mr. Modi got off to a flying start at Delhi’s Shriram College of Commerce, he has frittered the prime mover’s advantage upon any national Opposition that simply does not exist. Indeed, Mr. Modi may burn-out prematurely, putting paid to a steadily rising Sensex, large crowds that he has attracted so far, an Opposition that has only succeeded in elevating him to National Saviour status and regional parties that are evidently risk-averse (with the exception of one) to imperiling any power-sharing arrangement that may become imperative in May, 2014. Schattscheider’s “In politics the most catastrophic force in the world is the power of irrelevance which transmutes one conflict into another and turns all existing alignments inside out” may well ring true in the Apr-May 2014 polls. Mr. Modi’s overweening quest for singleparty majority in Parliament may not be entirely misplaced given the current state of this nation and the national ‘mood’ for tough and quick decisions and action, yet it may remain unattainable with his churlish indulgence in circus-like inanities and finally foster the creation of another multi-party coalition, this time with equally ambitious regional leaders seeking to feather their own nests and then having also to reckon with powerful BJP chief ministers who have very recently proved their mettle in states that were way below Gujarat’s level of 6
  7. 7. development. At age ninety one, I can only wonder whether I will live long enough to witness the beginning of India’s national reconstruction, post Election 2014. The author is a retired Ambassador of India 7