By Dilip Laxman
For recall, India’s general elections will kick off on April 11, when 900 million voters are expected to cast their vote in nearly a million booths using electronic machines whose reliability has been established in previous elections. Nevertheless, they have been upgraded with Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) that includes a photo of the candidate voted for – all this to reassure the voter and the country about the soundness of the voting mechanism.
These 900 million voters will include an estimated 84 million first-time eligible voters. These figures are mind-boggling to us! The elections will be held in seven stages and the results are expected to be declared on May 23.
This election takes place against the backdrop of increasing tensions between India and Pakistan following the terrorist attack in Pulwama, Kashmir that killed 40 CRPF soldiers and that was followed by retaliations. As a result national security is perhaps the key issue of concern in this election – though for obvious reasons the current focus is on the military dimension, it being understood that national security encompasses much more than that — along with the usual ones of the economy, jobs, unemployment, and farmer distress which have been ongoing for decades in the country.
Common sense suffices to appreciate that such long-standing issues cannot be resolved by a magic wand, in other words no economic miracle is possible in five years, the duration of a mandate. We have had to painfully realise this in Mauritius – and the one who had evoked this possibility in the euphoria of Alliance Lepep’s victory in December 2014 has recently resigned when he publicly expressed shame at the low growth rate and earned the ire of his party and its mentor Sir Anerood Jugnauth, under whose prime ministership he was able to achieve the first so-called economic ‘miracle’. Miracles, if any, are alas not reproducible!
There never was one under Congress rule in India, and for it to expect that a miracle can take place in five years under Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi is sheer hyprocrisy and demagogy. This was underlined by him at a rally in northeastern Arunachal Pradesh state, when he said that the Congress Party, which has dominated Indian politics since independence in 1947, has not solved the country’s problems.
In his own words, ‘A family ruled the country for 55 years but they still cannot claim that they have completed all of India’s work. For me, it is yet to be five years and even I cannot claim I have done everything but I am someone who likes a challenge. If I take up a task, I ensure it’s completed in time.’ Continuing, he said: ‘This election is a choice between promises and intentions… between trust and corruption… On the one hand, you have a government of motives, on the other, just false promises.’
In fact, a few days ago, the Congress Party made public its Manifesto, and P. Chidambaram of the Congress Party was defending the proposals in an interview on Indian television. But Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has torn the Congress Party’s Manifesto apart, saying it will ‘break the country’, as he pointed out in a press conference that ‘Some of the ideas are unimplementable and dangerous. They are for an agenda for the Balkanization of India’. Two of the key pledges in the Congress manifesto are heavy subsidies for welfare programmes for the poor and the scrapping of the country’s sedition law.
Arun Jaitley didn’t mince his words with regard to that sedition law. ‘The Congress’ leadership today is in the grip of jihadists and Maoists,’ he said. ‘They are saying in the Manifesto that Section 124A (sedition) will be removed from Indian Penal Code, committing treason is no longer a crime. A party that makes such announcements is not entitled to a single vote’ because what this amounts to is that the ‘Congress Manifesto is a Charter to Weaken India. After reading Congress Manifesto my worst fears have come true. The repeal of S.124A of the IPC, diluting AFSPA & “bail is the rule jail is the exception” for terrorists & hardcore criminals will compromise national security’.
While the Congress Party is the main challenger of the Bharatiya Janata Party, there is a coalition of regional opposition parties which has been pieced together by leaps and bounds whose sole agenda is to prevent Modi from being elected again. It is called ‘Mahagathbandhan’ and as S Prasannarajan of OPEN magazine wrote in his editorial of April 1, that coalition has ‘more phonetic majesty than political cohesion’. In fact, the leaders of these parties which include two ladies, former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Smt Mayavati and current CM of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee, have been criticising each other and the Congress Party. As we say here, it’s a real méli-mélo. Nevertheless they truly are convinced that they can topple PM Shri Narendra Modi.
All in all therefore this will be a very interesting election to follow as the outcome will determine whether Indians want to continue with the current ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas!’ – ‘All together, All for development’ – model of running the country. Indications are that a majority do favour this model. Let’s wait and see!
* Published in print edition on 5 April 2019