The people will decide, but the writing is already on the wall

General elections announced in India

The election for the Lok Sabha (Parliament) has been announced in New Delhi by India’s Chief Election Commissioner Veeravalli Sundaram Sampath.

It is an election which will be watched by the whole world, as the international community is in high expectations of a strong, dynamic and decisive leadership to emerge, according to a foreign correspondent who was participating in a TV debate on the subject in New-Delhi. The general perception by major economic players both in India and abroad is that such leadership has been lacking of late in India. Many have expressed concern that its Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is increasingly unheard and prefers to remain in the shadow of the unelected, shrewd and dynastic successor in the Congress, Mrs Sonia Gandhi. This is all the more puzzling as he was the one who launched India on its transformative growth path when he was finance minister in the 1990s, following upon his prestigious track record at the World Bank.

One would recall the cartoon in an issue of India Today magazine several years ago, when the duo took over power, in which Manmohan Singh was seen sitting on a chair, and in the second cartoon next to it was seen Sonia Gandhi standing at the back with the caption reading: ‘the power behind the throne.’ She has been so influential in all decision-making that one of the jokes about her son Rahul, who is the de facto prime ministerial candidate of the Congress Party, is that his speeches always include the expressions ‘I asked my Mummy’ or ‘Mummy said so’!

Point is, to make the giant leap that is required to turn it into the superpower that it deserves to become, what India needs is not a dummy or a mummy, but a leader who commands and controls not by physical force but through the power of a clear-headed vision of what her people expects of India, which is two-pronged: economic and territorial security. This can only be based on inclusive social growth, a strong scientific base to propel the economy, and the enhanced development of indigenous capacity for equipping its armed forces so as to attain self-sufficiency in a foreseeable future. That only can guarantee respect for India and Indians the world over, and to some extent will reflect on the Diaspora as well.

This is the largest election to be held in the world, and the statistics match the scale: 814 million voters of whom 120 million will be first time ones; 543 constituencies; 930 000 polling booths and 1.2 million electronic voting machines. The elections will be held in 9 phases starting on April 7 to end on May 12, with counting due on 16 May.

An interesting fact is that there are likely to be more than 1,000 registered parties, if the election of 2009 is a guide and, for the first time in India, voters will be able to select the ‘none of the above’ option.

However, it is also a fact the two main contenders to power at the national level are the Congress Party, whose public face is the scion and heir to the dynasty Rahul Gandhi (despite repeated denials and ‘party procedures’ reasons advanced by its spokespersons) and the Bharatiya Janata Party which has long since positioned the third time Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, as its prime ministerial candidate.

In order to govern soundly, either party needs to garner at least 200 seats, and then make alliance with the regional parties which have their own agendas. To be in a majority, at least 272 seats are required. This is what the BJP is aiming for, knowing full well that this is going to be a steep uphill task. Despite the fact that, as the Independent Online UK notes: ‘As things currently stand, most observers believe the main opposition candidate, Narendra Modi, has the political momentum behind him. A series of polls have shown that he is the most popular choice for prime minister.’ This is in keeping with the new mood of the nation, made up of ‘an intense distrust of power, aversion to corruption and an overwhelming sense that governance is in total disarray.’

Thus, ‘a recent poll by the Pew Research Centre said 63 per cent of Indians prefer the Bharatiya Janata Party over the incumbent Congress Party. The Congress, India’s oldest political party and the one that has dominated the country’s politics since it secured independence in 1947, is confronting what may be bleakest ever prospects.’ What with ‘Rahul Gandhi, the 43-year-old heir to the country’s Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty leading the Congress party’s struggling campaign. But the party has been rocked by a series of scandals and a sense of drift that has set in over the last two years.’

Political analyst S. Prasannarajan wrote about Rahul Gandhi in November 2011 that ‘he is a profoundly prosaic politician who, even by the standard of the Youth Congress, has shown hardly anything to prove that he is the change India, if not the party, is waiting for.’ Not only ‘he does not have a script’ he also ‘does not have a text of his own.’ The situation seems not to have evolved since.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) of Anand Kejriwal was almost hoisted to power in New Delhi on a wave of enthusiasm for its grassroots approach, its seemingly transparent campaign with no corporate backing and its promises of changing the lives of the common man, aam aadmi. However, it lasted only 49 days, with the dramatic resignation of its leader Kejriwal. What is being reproached to it is its agitationist, street level method is not seen to be applicable to India at national level, and although it can play spoilsport, it cannot be a serious contender at this stage. The latest brush with the Electoral Commission of India, in the wake of the demonstrations it held in New Delhi after the announcement of the general elections, was apparently in breach of the code of conduct for parties. It is contended that it should have sought the permission of the Electoral Commission first, which it did not do.

As for the Third Front that is struggling to surface, made up of regional parties who wish to constitute a non-Congress, non-BJP force — and eventually government – it is already being labelled ‘Tired’ front, a ‘non-starter’ because it has ‘no ideological fulcrum, too many prime-ministerial aspirants and potential instability.’ It is, in our local jargon, a real panier crabes.

The people will decide, but the writing is already on the wall.

* Published in print edition on 7 March 2014

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