Following the general elections the people’s verdict must be respected with the hope that the new government will deliver to meet people’s aspirations. People, across the board, are looking forward to a government that can provide them relief from the continuous onslaughts on their day-to-day life. The track record of the Congress-led UPA government, particularly during the last two years, led to widespread discontent that was successfully exploited by the BJP to gain this electoral victory.
In this background, the BJP mounted an effective campaign backed by an unprecedented display of money power and the building up of media hype. The successful projection of its prime ministerial candidate was forged through a combination of the Hindutva agenda and the promises of ‘development’ and ‘good governance’. On the first score, Narendra Modi, since the 2002 Gujarat communal pogrom, has remained the mascot of Hindutva communal polarisation. His projection as the future prime minister in itself was sufficient to sharpen this polarisation. This continued to be the strongest undercurrent of the BJP campaign, resulting in not a single Muslim MP being elected among its 282.
The second score was aimed at a larger audience, as past experience confirms that Hindutva’s appeal alone remained unsuccessful in garnering a majority. The BJP succeeded in building a myth of the Gujarat development model, which can be replicated all over India if only Modi became the prime minister. Gujarat was depicted as the El Dorado, a land of flowing milk and honey. This successfully dovetailed with the aspirations of the younger generation and the first-time voters. Among Modi’s demagogy the frequent repetition of the popular advertisement ‘ye dil mange more’ appealed to the youth who during the course of the last decade saw the availability of opportunities expand rapidly but the realisation of the aspirations was wanting. The kindling of hope on this count was an important element that contributed to the BJP’s sweeping victory. Only time will tell how effectively these will be met or remain unrealisable myths.
These elections, however, throw up some important issues that merit serious consideration for the future of Indian parliamentary democracy. The display of money power has been unprecedented. This permitted the mounting of the BJP campaign as an ‘event management’ exercise (to borrow LK Advani’s description), costing, according to one conservative estimate, a whopping `10,000 crore. This worked to the tremendous disadvantage of political parties like the Left with lesser command over resources, which rely mainly on traditional forms of campaigning. On the other hand, such monetary resources were used for unethical ways of enticing voters, including direct monetary payment for votes. The Election Commission has seized an unprecedented amount of cash, apart from liquor and other enticements during these elections. This found reflection in the results. Of the 541 winners, 442 are crorepatis (as against 300 last time) with combined assets of over `6,500 crore. According to the Association for Democratic Reforms, the BJP leads this club with 237, the Congress has 35.
Additionally, the use of terror and intimidation as weapons of political mobilisation was in full display in states like West Bengal. Consequently, of the 541 elected, 112 have serious criminal charges against them like murder, disturbing communal harmony, and crimes against women.
Issues like corporate funding of political parties and restrictions on expenditures by political parties (confined only to candidates today) require correction. The CPI(M) had proposed an outright banning of corporate donations to political parties. Instead, corporates must be encouraged to contribute to India’s democratic processes financially but into a corpus to be maintained by the Election Commission for state funding of elections as the practice exists in many western democracies.
Importantly, it is time to consider a system of partial proportional representation. Despite such a major victory, the BJP’s vote share is the lowest at 31% of the votes polled by any party forming a government at the Centre in India’s history. In 1967, the Congress won 283 seats polling 40.8% as against 282 of the BJP today with just 31%. Even with 69% of the people voting against it, the BJP has a comfortable majority. In fact, strange as it may sound, India never had a single-party central government with over 50% of the polled vote. Such anomalies arise due to the ‘first past the post’ system. In many mature democracies only those who secure more than 50% of the polled vote in an election where more than 50% of the electorate has cast its vote are eligible to be elected. A partial proportional representation system can also limit the influence of growing money and muscle power. Two Lok Sabha constituencies can be combined into one with every voter having two votes, one for a specific candidate and another for a political party on the basis of its policies and programme. Political parties, in turn, will submit a priority list to the Election Commission beforehand. Depending on the percentage of their vote share nationally, each party is allotted a number of seats that are filled on the basis of the priority list. The time has come to seriously consider such reforms.
The myths leading up to the BJP victory are bound to explode sooner rather than later. This throws up the challenges for the future. ‘Investments’ made will be now recovered with ‘interest’ by those who financed this election campaign. This can only mean further impositions of burdens on the people, forget providing them any relief. The subterranean campaign of the Hindutva undercurrent will only sharpen communal polarisation, threatening our secular democratic foundations. How effectively both these are met will define the contours of the future for our people and the country.
Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP
The views expressed by the author are personal