The big, fat Indian elections begin today and the world is watching — not without reason, though: There are 814mn registered voters — a figure that has increased by 100mn since 2009.
The first sounds of the poll bugle were heard almost as early as August-September last year and became clearer, louder and sharper since the five assembly elections — touted as the semi-finals — that were held at the tail end of last year.
That election threw up a rookie political group in Delhi which now has national ambitions — AAP — even as the BJP mopped up three states (Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh) and the Congress was left holding a consolation prize: Mizoram.
On many occasions, the heat of the elections and the desire for the top prize have got the better of the senior leaders and they have been attacking each other in the most unbecoming of ways.
Unsurprisingly, some of their political juniors have only followed in their footsteps.
Thanks to such aggressive campaigning, voters were left with a lot of sound and fury but little content. Besides corruption, the key issue in the run-up to the election has been the dismal state of the Indian economy.
But was there any constructive debate at the political level? Unfortunately, no. Both BJP’s Narendra Modi and Congress’ Rahul Gandhi spent a large amount of time targeting each other’s governance agenda and offering promises but little else, in terms of solutions.
This lack of desire (or some would say ability) to engage in meaningful dialogue has been the hallmark of this election.
So the electorate, especially the young, have lost out on vital information regarding what the parties plan to do to re-energise the economy, ensure employment opportunities and shore up the higher education system or spread skill-building opportunities.
Every party has promised good governance but failed to elaborate on that.
The same can be said of the middle class that in the last few years have shed their disinterest in politics: Was there anything substantial to chew on for them? No. Even when it came to the manifestos, it’s been a strange situation, with the BJP, the front-runner in this election, struggling to put its out for wider public debate.
Keeping an eye on conduct was of course the Election Commission (EC). It kept an eagle eye on the parties and did a brilliant job in keeping the people hooked to the elections. But there were some spots in the EC’s otherwise clean record: It went beyond its remit with its decisions on gas pricing and banking licences, though finally it allowed the Reserve Bank of India to issue new licences.
Despite these issues, India’s election is and will remain the country’s biggest political showpiece and there is absolutely no reason whatsoever for anyone to not participate in this festival of democracy and be truly proud of the day’s return gift: That small black dot on the finger.