A long way still for India to be the best democracy
Those who entered politics preaching alternative politics and eradicating corruption had to adopt populist measures, and, as a result, election after election, actual issues are pushed further behind
Everyone and anyone who has even the remotest interest in politics is anxiously waiting for December 8. The direction of Indian politics for the next two crucial years will be decided on that day, when votes for the assemblies in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh will be counted.
Any election must include victory and defeat, but voting in a democracy goes beyond these outcomes. It serves as a report card for political parties and governments. Unfortunately, this is not happening. We are living in an era in which healthy political ideals are being tainted election after election.
Once again, verbal abuse has successfully obscured the most important issues. The two state elections presented an opportunity for real political discourse on the economy and rising prices. The primary sources of “sorrow” in both these states are unemployment, inflation and the plight of the poor as a result of poor governance.
According to a survey conducted by C-Voter in mid-November, Gujarat’s biggest problem is joblessness. About 38% of respondents said so. Only 4% said inflation was the biggest problem. Gujarat is nevertheless one of the states with the lowest unemployment rates in the nation, according to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE). On October 22, the unemployment rate here was 1.7%, compared with the national average of 8%.
Similarly, according to a recent poll conducted by four educational institutions in Himachal, joblessness was the most pressing issue for 39.1% of the respondents, while inflation was so for 35.2%. Unemployment should have been a deciding factor in both states, but such concerns are not even a cry in the wilderness. Indian democracy has grown with its contradictions.
On the one hand, there is unemployment and the ensuing chaos, while, on the other, our legislators are frequently drawn from the upper crust. According to the Association for Democratic Reforms, 456 of the 1,621 candidates, or around 28%, in the Gujarat assembly elections, are crorepatis. Jayanti Patel of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) tops the list. The BJP has fielded 154 crorepatis, the Congress 142, and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) 68. The average net worth of candidates in the Gujarat elections is ₹2.56 crore. A dozen of the crorepati candidates have stated incomes ranging from nil to ₹10,000. It’s unlikely that even one of them will be able to enter the legislative assembly.
Now let’s talk about the second paradox.
India has the biggest population of young people. More than 70% of Indians are under 35. India also has the highest number of graduates in the world. But 1,124, or more than half, of the candidates vying to represent the average Gujarati citizen, have only completed the 12th grade.
Over a hundred of them have revealed themselves to be either illiterate or barely literate. Only 449 applicants have a Bachelor’s degree. Coming to age, more than half are between the ages of 40 and 80. Two are older than 80. That is, the representation of young professionals and the poor will be disproportionate to the population, whoever forms the government.
We often remain quiet by accusing our leaders of deceiving the people. Why is it that our country, which has the highest population of young people and graduates, is so easily swayed by anyone? If we do not want this conflict to become permanent in Indian politics, voters must step forward.
It’s not that it hasn’t been attempted. But those who entered politics preaching alternative politics and eradicating corruption through politics had to adopt populist measures as well. As a result, election after election, actual issues are pushed further behind.
The Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh elections are no exception.
This is why elections are becoming pompous “events” rather than democratic festivals. Did anyone expect the election for the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) to make national television headlines? This time, the manner in which the BJP and the AAP have deployed all their might, energy, and resources demonstrates the shifting paradigm of Indian politics. Every election is now like prepping for the next battle.
But except for Himachal, the Congress is not seen contesting in Gujarat and the MCD. The same pattern may be seen in the by-elections in Uttar Pradesh. Why? Is this a strategy or has the Congress given up? This will also be revealed on December 7 and 8. The results of the MCD elections are to come on December 7.
Whatever may be the outcome of this election, the conflict will continue till the system dominates the people. Without doubt, the world’s largest democracy still has a long way to go before becoming the best democracy.
Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan
The views expressed are personal