By B.G. Verghese
Every general election is different. But the forthcoming polls are likely to be significantly different. It is likely to end of the Grand Old Congress Party’s dominance 130 years after it was born. This was only once briefly challenged in 1977. The polls could also mark a decisive generational change among voters and elected members and witness a new profile of aspiring candidates with more of them drawn from ever increasing upwardly mobile cohorts of relatively disadvantaged and oppressed people moving from Bharat to India. This trend is necessarily changing the social agenda that confronts the nation as it transits from representative (for the people) to participative (by the people) governance and equal opportunity. Whatever the gains and losses and whomsoever it affects, this will be India’s victorysignifying a deepening democracy despite the ponderously elephantine pace of progress.
The appearance of the AamAdmi Party in a sense embodies something of that tendency. But the AAP, alas, is an inchoate body of “new” or born-again men and women who are tired of mis-governance, corruption and masterly inactivity but are led by authoritarian anarchists. They paraphrase the dream of those in Omar Khayyam’s verse who would “with fate conspire, to grasp this sorry scheme of things entire; shatter it to bits, and then, remould it nearer the heart’s desire”. Beautiful poetry that. But the caution comes in Humpty Dumpty’s great fall. Not all the King’s horses nor all the King’s men, could put Humpty Dumpty together again. Result:anarchy.
AAP is as yet akin to the new option button on EVMs: “None of the above”. But the AAP “above” is made up of a motley crowd of the good, the deserving and the impatient aspirant who resent better minds and deserving candidates such as Rajmohan Gandhi being “parachuted” into emotionally self-reserved aamadmi constituencies!
The BJP, like others, has been trying to forge catch-them-if-you-can alliances with splinter groups, malcontents and not so clean candidates. After much dithering and some in-fighting,NarendraModi is to stand from Varanasi, perhaps to symbolise a greater-a-than-Gujarat stature and, some would say,an unspoken RSS-Hindutva endorsement. However, Kejriwal is poised to stand against Modiand challenge his Gujarat model of development platform.
The Congress is scouring around for allies but appears widely suspect and shunned for its unprincipled record. After Rahul Gandhi’s “primaries” to select henchmen like Ajay Maken, the Party has given tickets to tainted candidates. Many stalwarts are reportedly reluctant candidates or are looking for safe seats while Rahul himself has been talking of preparing for 2019! The regional parties are looking worried. Jayalalithaa and MamataBannerjee are both hankering after a significant major “king-maker” presence in the new LokSabha. Though becomingly coy, neither has maskedher national ambitions. Mamata was publicly snubbed in Delhi by Anna Hazare whose endless clowning, ego and empty sermonising has increasingly begun to pall. The “third front” remains amorphous.
The NDTV opinion poll has forecast 229 seats for the NDA (with 195 for the BJP) against 129 for the UPA (with the Congress tally falling below 100 seats) and substantial gains for the Trinamool and AIDMK. The AAP is shown as winning no more than a few seats, mostly in and around Delhi. These remain speculative forecasts and there could be surprises. But they do seem to reflect the broad trend in voter preference before the final field of candidates and alliances were known.
What they do show, however, is that even on this reckoning, the NDA will be short of 44 seats to stitch together a majority in the LokSabha – never a good yardstick in relation to the more critical concept of enjoying the “confidence of the House” in terms of those present and voting – while the BJP itself will be 78 short of that number. Will a divisive, post-2002 morally-wounded Modibe able to muster those 43, 78 and possibly larger number of votes (given that there are liberal BJP dissenters who resent his right-wing authoritarianism)? The mantle of leading a post-election NDA coalition may therefore fall on shoulders other than Modi’s unless the BJP does even better and the Congress even worse than the polls forecast.
What seems quite likely therefore is a non-Congress NDA or even Modi-led government at the helm. An unstable LokSabha could well face dissolution and fresh elections within the next two to three years.
Hopefully, the elections will not further degenerate into vulgarity, violence and abuse. The Maoist attack on the CRPF in Chattisgarh was clearly forecast but standard operating procedures were not followed and co-ordination among the Central and State security and intelligence agencies was lacking. More such attacks must be expected as the Naxals are opposed to elections and constitutional processes.
Meanwhile,Kejriwal’scharge that sections of the media are in the pay of moneybags may be sweeping but not wholly untrue. There has been much partisan and subjective or negative coverage and ample evidence of paid news. Yet, Kejriwal protests too much. The AAP and earlier Anna movement owed much to embedded and highly partisan journalism in their favour. The media also needs to look within a great deal more than it does.
Addressing the persisting menace of criminals in politics – and many among those so charged have won nominations across the party spectrum –the CEC has ordered that all trials against legislators must be completed within a year Hearings must be conducted on a daily basis and more courts must be created and judges appointed to do the job.
The Supreme Court has also asked the Law Commission to examine whether a party can be derecognised and its leader disqualified for hate speech which is fast becoming the currency of politics. The Court observed that it is also necessary to define hate speech. Article 19(2) does provide for reasonable restrictions on “incitement to offence”. Hate speech may not incite violenceper se but is divisive and therefore runs counter to the constitutional mandate to promote and protect Fraternity, “assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the State”.Alas, the whole concept of Fraternity has been grossly disregarded by the state. When the fence eats the crop, society is truly in trouble.