It was a head-spinning few months as the Bihar election campaign got underway. I can still hear the slightly scary sound of helicopter blades whirring carting leaders from Delhi to Bihar and back. The roar of the crowds at rallies as leader after leader addressed them is still reverberating in my ears. And now that the whole shebang is done and dusted, we can look forward to the next, and the next and the next.
The BJP appears to be most earnest about elections, in fact its performance in both the Delhi elections and now in Bihar was based on a do-or-die strategy. It didn’t work but that is another matter. What matters is that high-profile ministers, party chieftains, and the prime minister himself put their boots on the ground in order to corner if not wipe out the opposition. In fact, when I think of the Modi-Amit Shah duo, I can only think of election campaigns. So you would not be wrong to ask, is any governance actually happening in the country?
On the face of it, people would be forgiven for thinking that all the top leaders are engaged in strategising and fighting elections. And indeed, they are caught in a cleft stick as elections are upon the country thick and fast. So, leaders from all parties are lurching from one campaign to the other, barely pausing for breath. Physical presence, you might argue, is not required for executing the daily tasks of governance for a minister. And you may be right. But a minister in government is expected to do much more — meeting people from all walks of life is one thing. Captains of industry, civil society groups, people with grievances, the bureaucracy and, of course, foreign investors and dignitaries.
How can they do this if they are missing for large periods of time from the seat of governance? Let me take the Bihar election. Was it necessary to wheel out so many big guns for the campaign? After all, it was a state election and any national party should have a well-oiled party machine on the ground. The central leaders should be used judiciously and, if required, to give that final push. The impression that is being conveyed is that the government is in perpetual poll mode and is not focused on the task for which it was elected.
But then again, it can be argued that come elections parties have to pull out all the stops to win. This brings me to the point of having several state elections almost every year after the general elections. Leave alone foreign investors, the impression in the country among many sections is that the government is so busy fighting election after election that it has little time for the pressing things that need to be resolved. Now when things go wrong as they are wont to in the normal course of events, the government could be blamed for taking its eye off the ball so many times.
Now, to streamline state elections and bring them alongside general elections is far too much of a gargantuan task for which we are simply not equipped in terms of manpower, security and technology. But, the issue certainly warrants a debate. Is there some way in which state elections can be clubbed together in batches? This way, leaders would not have to be away from their offices for so long. It would lessen voter fatigue and very possibly reduce costs and wear and tear on the security forces.
In Bihar, senior ministers were camping there, attending to the minutest details of the campaign. This way, state elections get blown up way out of proportion and become such bitterly fought battles that people right from the prime minister downwards stake their personal reputations on this. This is not the case in other democracies like, say, Britain. I have never heard of Prime Minister David Cameron going hell for leather in a by-election or a borough poll. I am not comparing the magnitude of our state elections and their bearing on Parliament to a small election in the UK. But the principle is worth thinking about.
Since so much was invested in these elections, they have attracted huge attention in India and abroad. The outcome, which should of course be worrying to the government, has now assumed apocalyptic proportions. We really need to restore our equilibrium here. I suggest that constitutional experts, legal luminaries and politicians themselves sit together and try and work out a formula by which we don’t have to have elections at all times. There are no facts and figures to prove that governance has suffered in any substantive manner but given the hostilities in Parliament, the government could better utilise its time in political management.
At present, policy making and parliamentary work seem like an after-thought, something that has to be done before we are on to the next election. The reforms are something that India cannot afford to put off while it fights elections. When the NDA came to power, it was expected to hit the ground running on economic reform. The PM was spot on when he spoke about how he would attend to the little things that go into nation-building, Swachh Bharat was one of them. But a year and a half down the line, the government and opposition don’t seem to be applying themselves to their primary job — governance. And here the opposition has an equally important role to play in being constructive, which it has not been so far.
We have elections in West Bengal, Kerala, Assam and Tamil Nadu next year. The national parties should work out a way to leave things largely to their cadre and only send in the big guns towards the end. But that is not likely to happen. So, it is really time to begin a national debate both in political circles and maybe in the media on the need to explore other ways of conducting elections without so much disruption and so much loss of confidence on the part of investors.
If such a debate is initiated, the public is bound to react and I am sure suggestions will pour in thick and fast. It would be well worth the while for the future of India and much more productive than the silly debates we see today on issues like returning awards and dietary habits. Nothing may come of it, but let us not forget that even the Constitution is not cast in stone. If we have an idea whose time has come, I am sure there are ways to work around the labyrinthine rules and regulations which govern governance. I for one am terminally tired of the carpet bombing coverage of state elections. I am sure many others feel the same. Let’s give it a shot and set off a debate on this, what have we got to lose?