We rejoiced when the 2014 general elections signalled a paradigm shift in our election campaigns from the purely political and personal to development. Now the people can get their teeth into the real issues that plague much of India we thought. But there seems to have been a reversal of priorities in these elections to five states, one of which is so important that all parties went hell for leather to woo voters. And those who have emerged victorious have done so by at best skimming the surface of development issues.
All the states that went to the polls had serious issues which we thought would be taken up by the competing parties. How wrong we were. Let us take one of the least talked about states this election, Uttarakhand. It is politically unstable, rife with corruption, it has high rates of unemployment and migration from rural areas is constant. Disaster and rehabilitation have affected people as illegal mining has left many part of the state vulnerable to floods. But, the battle was focused on personalities and barely touched on all this reducing things to the personality of the chief minister and the magic of the prime minister.
In UP, let me highlight one issue which affects the lives of people in so many ways. Just 23.7 % of rural households used electricity as the main source of energy since they simply did not get it. At least 177,000 households in rural UP had no electricity by the end of 2016. The slow pace of electrification is affecting children’s ability to study, what rudimentary medical services there are and women’s safety to mention a few issues. Joblessness among youth is another problem facing the state with 237 per 1,000 people between the ages of 18 and 29 with a graduate degree but no jobs. This should have mattered but it didn’t, the caste arithmetic and at the risk of repeating myself, the personality of the prime minister did the trick. The BJP has pulled off a stunning victory.
In Punjab, drug and alcohol addiction are major causes of worry but political parties did nothing more than accuse each other of being responsible for this. Around 90% of the total addicts are hooked to heroin which is also a major source of political funding. At least Rs 4,200 crore per year has been lost due to crop failure in recent times, driving farmers to suicide. But we heard nothing more than buck passing, no real discussion on how to stop this ruinous trend. But an electorate fed up with the open aggrandisement of the Akalis threw in their lot with the Congress which coasted to victory on anti-incumbency, not real issues.
Illegal mining and its fallout on the environment are big problems facing Goa but given the fact that the mining mafia and many politicians are in cahoots, this did not feature in the polls either to any significant extent. So in the end, it really was an issueless election, characterised by name calling, dramatic flourishes, caste and religion. As the maidans fall silent and the buntings and banners are scattered to the winds, the people will go back to their humdrum lives with not even the promise that their quality of life will get better. The young man whom people say is a son of the state, the heir apparent who is his ally now, the thespian prime minister, the razor sharp BJP president, the imperious Mayawati, not one of them said anything that could remotely change the lives of the people, just the promise that if you voted for them things will get better. But how, in what time frame? No one knows, and for these hectic days of campaigning and voting, no one seemed to care. Development and all it stood for seems a very distant mirage as the winners stands tall and the losers small.