It was meant to be the big ticket item in these elections. But in a very short time, the issue of corruption seems to have become just one more bone of contention in these painfully long elections. It was not so long ago that AAP, with almost the single-point agenda of wiping out corruption, was hailed as a new force on the block. And before that, social activist Anna Hazare had become the symbol of the fight against a venal system. Yet, in the just-concluded phase of the polls, two of the big players are those with corruption charges against them. Bihar strongman and RJD leader Lalu Prasad, who is campaigning for his wife Rabri Devi who will quite clearly be his proxy, has been convicted on this count. In Andhra Pradesh, Jaganmohan Reddy is out on bail after serving 11 months in jail. Yet, the crowds seem most enthusiastic about the two. The fact that corruption in itself is not a defining issue is clear from the fact that in this election a large number of candidates with criminal charges, many of them serious, are contesting. Leading from the front in this context are the Samajwadi Party and the BJP. It is clear from this that while corruption is a worrisome issue at the local level, when it comes to the national stage, it does not take precedence over all else. As we have seen, in the Hindi heartland at least, the same old factors of caste and community still hold the key in most constituencies and it is the development plank that seems to have more resonance than corruption.
Both those at the helm of the campaign for the two main parties, Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi, have hardly dwelt on the corruption issue. It is raised here and there but mostly to score points over each other rather than to address it as a problem that is holding India back. Even AAP, which spearheaded the movement against corruption, has not focussed on it to the exclusion of other issues.
In many surveys and interviews, the young who have come out in droves to vote this time cite lack of jobs and lack of development as subjects that concern them the most. Again, corruption is not top of the agenda. This is not to suggest that it is not an important issue, it is in that it affects all of us in our daily lives. Perhaps the message from this election is that the fight against corruption is not going to be led from the top but from the grassroots. However, the right signals have to come from the top as well. Whichever government comes to power, it should make it clear that as far as its own conduct goes, there will be zero tolerance for corruption in its ranks.