a democracy, that is perfectly fair and reasonable. But
the Prime Minister and his political managers ignored a
fundamental reality of Indian politics. After the stunning
and emotional verdict of 1984 following Mrs Gandhi's tragic
assassination, there is no longer a national verdict. The
result of Lok Sabha polls over the past 15 years has been
an aggregate of state verdicts. In each state, the people
were responding to the local situation. In fact, even the
1999 verdict was a slight aberration as the surge of nationalism
following the successful Kargil war, and the anger against
the non-NDA parties for foisting an election without providing
a viable alternative helped Mr Vajpayee obtain a relatively
strong mandate. Otherwise, people are not judging the Union
government. This is partly a result of the broad consensus
on policy at the national level, defying intense political
polarization and fragmented polity.
remarkable victory of Congress and allies, left parties,
and other non-NDA parties now once again proves that the
states is where the action is. People are responding to
their state government's performance because that is what
really matters to them in daily lives, and that is what
they see as 'Sarkar'. For the bulk of Indians, the Union
is an abstraction, and its policies and actions - except
on matters of war and peace - are far removed from the realities
of life and death. Three major states are an exception to
this rule - West Bengal, which created a stable political
equilibrium based on ideology, cadres, land reforms, and
rural base; Bihar, which created an unstable equilibrium
based on a seemingly permanent, immutable political coalition
of social groups unrelated to governance; and Uttar Pradesh,
where each social group finds its niche in one of the four
parties, leading to a lasting deadlock.
elsewhere, there is generally a two-party, or two-alliances
system operating, and the verdict reflects public support
for, or outrage against, the party in power. The intensity
of the anti-establishment feeling is in general directly
proportional to the length of tenure of the state government.
Local arithmetic did lead to some variations in Maharashtra,
and Gujarat is at last swinging against the politics of
hate. Orissa responded to Navin Patnaik's transparent sincerity
and honesty, and decided to give him another chance. We
can clearly see the pattern everywhere, which underlines
the message: It is the states, stupid!
Gandhi and Left parties deserve full credit for pulling
off a famous victory against heavy odds. But NDA did snatch
defeat from the jaws of victory by its irrational exuberance
and incorrect reading of the situation, not to speak of
political fallies like discarding trusted allies.
the short-term, the picture is very clear. Congress and
allies, along with Left parties have a clear and comfortable
majority in the 14th Lok Sabha. A stable Congress-led government
with Leftist support is a certainty. Happily, the fears
of NDA defeat leading to instability proved to be unfounded.
Leftists, given their pragmatic record in Bengal and Kerala
will certainly support economic reforms, but with a human
face. Important adjustments - focus on education, heath
care, employment generation, agriculture and rural sector,
equity, transparency and accountability - are necessary
and vital. These much-needed correctives will strengthen
economic reform process, and redefine the role of the state.
Federal principle will now be upheld, as opposed to earlier
arrogance and centralization of Congress rule. Labour reforms
and disinvestment will sadly take a back seat. On the whole,
we will see a broader and deeper consensus around economic
liberalization policies. And hopefully, communal politics
will take a back seat, giving way to issues of economic
growth and equity.
the long term is more important. Our polity is shaped by
what happens in states. Several state governments - of various
parties - have been trying valiantly to improve things.
But it is harder to please people, as real governance including
public order, justice, rule of law, education, heath care,
natural resources development, local infrastructure, employment
generation and social security are in the states' domain.
The Indian state has lost the capacity to deliver services
to people. Given the nature of our electoral process, even
a well-meaning government is helpless in containing the
perfidy of legislators and arrogance and corruption of employees.
Our elections are only bringing about periodic change of
players, but the rules of the game and nature of power are
unaltered. Elections only act as safety valves to let off
people's anger and resentment, but do not help improve governance.
Andhra Pradesh elections now have witnessed about Rs. 1000
crores expenditure by major parties and candidates. Most
of this expenditure is illegitimate, and incurred for vote-buying,
hiring hoodlums and bribing officials. No matter who wins,
the imperative to get back multiple returns on investment
dominates the behaviour of legislators. As parties are desperate
to win, only those candidates who are "winnable"
by mustening money and muscle power are nominated by all
leading parties. While money power is dominant in the South,
muscle power is critical in the North. But a new Gresham's
law operates in politics, and the worst practices spread
quickly all over the country. Governance in states is the
real casualty. And bad governance impedes growth, and aggravates
the distortions of market economy. Failure of public education
and health care, for instance is felt disproportionately
by the poor and the weak, undermining their productivity
and incomes, and fueling anger.
clearly need comprehensive political and governance reforms
if the nation is to be rescued from this vicious cycle.
Real decentralization of power with the citizen at the heart
of governance; far-reaching reforms of the electoral system
to alter the nature of incentives in politics, and make
honesty compatible with survival in public office; sensible
judicial reforms to make justice speedy and accessible;
and genuine accountability of those in power to the electors
through many innovative mechanisms - these are the vital
requirements to rejuvenate our democracy. It is the governance
in states, stupid!