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Sunday, Aug 25, 2019

Take your pick: Slogans or progress

Populist slogans have benefited leaders and parties but unfortunately did little for the country.

columns Updated: Mar 18, 2019 07:52 IST
Shashi Shekhar
Shashi Shekhar
An Election Commission official inks a person after she cast her vote
An Election Commission official inks a person after she cast her vote (Sonu Mehta/HT PHOTO)

India has seen 16 general elections in 72 years of independence. Despite this, the question still remains as to whether our democracy is moving in the right direction?

When the first general election after independence took place in 1951-52, India was very different. Although Jawaharlal Nehru considered himself the head of Indian democracy, the reality is that minor kings, riyasats and feudal landlords were still quite influential. In that election, only 17.3 crore voters had been registered. Of them, 44.87% voted. At that time, 53 political parties were in the electoral fray for 489 seats and a total of 1,874 candidates contested the elections. Those days, India was poor and its annual per capita income was Rs 7,651 and literacy rate was just 18.33%.

In those elections, the Congress won 364 out of 489 seats, formed the government and Jawaharlal Nehru abolished the zamindari system that year itself. It felt at that time that Indian democracy would, sooner or later achieve its proper form and structure because the future governments would be elected by the people and for the people, in real sense of the word. At that time, our political leaders may not have realised that we are getting rid of the royalty who would soon be replaced by a new set of demagogues who would take over our politics. Today, there is no part of this country which is untouched by the influence of political families.

A lot of water has flown under the bridge since then. With the increase in population, India’s income has also grown. If we recall the 2014 general elections, there were 83.4 crore registered voters, out of them 66.44% voted. A total of 464 parties and 8,251 candidates contested elections for 543 seats. The literacy rate in the country too touched 74.04%. The annual per capita income was more than one lakh rupees. The current elections will definitely break this record and this is the stage that worries me. We can break the records of the elections but we seem unable to find solutions to people’s problems.

I also have something to say to people who are lamenting the seven-phase elections -- the first elections took place in 68 phases and it took four months to complete. The Congress at that time had won 364 seats while in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP succeeded in getting a majority by winning 282 seats. If you look at the elections since 1957 till today, whether they were majority governments or coalition ones or whether they were affected by the influence of a particular personality, all these elections were fought on slogans rather than on facts.

Nehru gave the slogan of “aaraam haraam hai.” His successor whose tenure was all too short, Lal Bahadur Shastri, gave an impassioned and high-spirited slogan during the Indo-Pak war of 1965- “jai jawan jai kisan”. In 1971 Indira Gandhi contested the elections with the slogan “garibi hatao” And in 1977, we heard the echo of “Indira hatao, desh bachao” (remove Indira, save the country) On October 31, 1984, Indira Gandhi was assassinated and during the elections after her death, the Congress coined a moving slogan “jab tak suraj-chaand rahega, Indira tera naam rahega”. And Rajiv Gandhi won a massive majority with 404 seats and became head of the country.

Later in 1996, the BJP played up the disappointment prevalent among the people and used the slogan “sabko dekha baari-baari, abki baari Atal Bihari.” The last elections were fought and won by Modi on the slogan- “achchhe din aane waale hain”. This time around, Modi and his supporters are chanting Modi hai to mumkin hai (If Modi is there, then it’s possible.)

Here, a question arises, how much good did these election-winning slogans do for the country?

If we start discussing these depressing situations then it would take a lot more than this column to do so. But it is true that these populist slogans may have benefited leaders and coalitions but unfortunately did little for the county which is still swinging between hope and despair. Now, when we are about to vote for the 17th Lok Sabha, we should definitely pay attention to this -- should a country which has about 80% literacy be content with a whole lot of seemingly attractive slogans or should it not insist on substantial progress on the ground?

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan 

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Mar 18, 2019 07:37 IST

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