the immediate context, the verdicts in these states mean
three things. First, the NDA government has been further
strengthened. The overwhelming victory of BJP in Madhya
Pradesh and confortable majorities in Rajasthan and Chattisgarh
give the Union government a lot more room for manoevere.
Second, anti-incumbency continues to be a strong factor
in most states. Delhi is an exception for a variety of reasons;
and it is too small and atypical to count. MP also shows
how the gulf between style and substance is punished by
voters. Third, there will be great pressure on the prime
minister to seek dissolution of Lok Sabha immediately. While
the temptation is understandable, one should remember that
the four states which went to polls together account for
only 72 Lok Sabha seats. The real contention will in AP,
where BJP's ally TDP is fighting against anti-incumbency,
and in UP where BJP is not well-placed. These two states
account for 123 MPs.
elections have reinforced several messages about our democracy.
As seen repeatedly before, people's verdicts cannot be predicted
until the polling is over. And there are no national verdicts,
or great waves. Women leaders are accepted increasingly
in their own right. Until the 70's, Nandini Satpathy was
the only major woman leader who rose to high office without
dynastic politics or male patronage. Now Uma Bharati and
Mamata Banerjee are leaders in their own right. Even Jayalalitha,
Mayawati, Sheila Dixit and Vasundhara Raje, while they owe
their political careers to family connections or male patronage,
have established themselves as mass leaders.
important outcome is that growth and governance have become
electoral issues in a big way. There are no serious ideological
differences between major parties in terms of economic management.
Therefore competence in delivery has become the central
issue. Politics has become increasingly plebiscitary. Despite
the Westminster model, our elections and campaigns are centered
around the leaders. Therefore Shiela Dixit, Madanlal Khurana,
Ashok Gehlot, Vasundhara Raje, Digvijay Singh, Uma Bharati,
and Ajit Jogi have become the issues, often disregarding
their party labels. Party labels have anyway become unimportant
as all major parties adopt the same policies. And almost
any candidate of either party could be in the other camp!
general, anti-establishment feelings still dominate voters'
responses. Half the incumbent legislators are not returned
to office, no matter which party wins. And parties in power
generally are at a disadvantage. This shows the voters'
deep disenchantment with the nature of politics and their
yearning for change. Parties have not yet come to terms
with this volatility of voting behaviour, and have not developed
a constructive and sane response to people's urges. That
is why, even when legislators are unseated and governments
change, we get more of the same. There is only a change
of players, and no change in the rules of the game.
of the recent scams illustrate this unhappy feature of our
politics. The Telgi stamp scam has once again established
the links between politics, bureaucracy, crime and corruption.
The Judeo sting operation again showed graphically the links
between political power and money. The CAT question paper
leakage by Ranjit Singh is another classic illustration
of our political and governance malaise. News reports indicate
that he made about Rs.100 crores a year, and more pertinently,
his desire was to become a MP! Had he not been caught fortuitously,
he almost certainly would have found patronage of a major
party and fulfilled his ambition.
scams once again remind us that there is inexhaustible appetite
for illegitimate funds in our political process. With economic
liberalization, some of the traditional avenues of corruption
have been closed. But as the demand continued unabated,
newer and more dangerous avenues are opened. That is why
the nexus between crime, big money and politics is stronger
today than ever before. Politics has become big business
demanding huge, illegitimate investments and the system
can only be sustained with multiple returns by abusing public
office and subverting all institutions and crime investigation.
The recent political funding reforms can only address the
needs for legitimate campaign by increasing supply of accountable
funds. But the illegitimate funds and corruption cannot
be curbed until we curb the demand itself. This demand side
management requires a redefinition of victory and changes
in the electoral rules of the game.
our first-past-the-post system of election, the candidate
who manages to obtain more votes than any other rival is
elected. All other votes have no value. Given that definition
of victory, parties and candidates are compelled to resort
to all tricks of the trade - vote buying, muscle power,
polling irregularities - to somehow 'win'. Since decent
candidates not resorting to these tricks rarely win, parties
increasingly attract undesirable candidates. That is why
while the overall verdict in a state may appear stunning,
and does usually reflect the broad public opinion, the picture
at the constituency level is dismal. No matter who is elected
locally, people are certain that things will not really
change. There cannot be good governance as long as crooked
means and undesirable candidates are the inevitable methods
deployed for maximizing the constituency vote. That is why
despite increasing talk of good governance, parties are
failing to deliver on their promises.
is what our elections increasingly presage. As long as victory
is dependent upon a plurality of votes in a constituency,
politics will be captive to crime, big money and local fiefdoms.
Parties are helpless in breaking this nexus, and honest
and honorable people shun politics or find it difficult
to survive. We need alternative modes of representation,
which can cleanse our politics and bring about real change
with elections. Politics as plunder has reached a dead end.