India election seems less serious as voter turnout slumps in second phase

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This election increasingly looks more and more curious, less and less serious. The absence of substance in this election is probably one of the reasons for the low voting percentage. With the heat also intense to the extent that voters standing in queues wilt and faint, with booth staff quixotic, some moving fast, others in a disinterested, lackadaisical fashion, the desire to vote to indicate a preference for the direction of government policy seems to be missing this year.

The disinterest started with the INDI alliance. While it had the potential to create an alternative strategy and policy for the voters, it went into an inexplicable state of hibernation for several months while its main constituent, the INC, chose to fight elections singlehandedly in several states. The alliance also never got into the task of sitting together and drafting an agenda to be placed before the voters, which may have enthused them to vote.

The BJP, on the other hand, displayed utmost arrogance. They announced that they will get 400 plus seats. Their vote-catching ploys, like the Ram temple, had already been fulfilled. The economy went through a convulsion during the pandemic. It recovered later in terms of GDP, but the growth was in the form of a K-shaped curve, with the rich getting richer and the poor poorer.

Household consumption increased, while household credit also expanded, pointing to possible insolvency in the household sector. Unemployment surged, disguised unemployment grew in the agricultural sector, inflation could not be arrested, and household consumption increased by a mere 3%. All this points to a supply/ demand mismatch, which lies in wait in the not-too-distant future. From the voters’ point of view, they perceive a growing struggle to balance the budget.

At the same time, the Central regulatory agencies and, following them, those of the States have become exceptionally tough. The PM has said that only 3% of ED cases are filed against politicians. This shows that 97% are filed against others. For each case filed against a recalcitrant politician, there will be 30 others filed against other people. If an agency is let loose against a section of people, it cannot be restrained when lower rungs of its bureaucracy make merry against innocent others. Besides, the electoral bonds issue has revealed that corruption is widespread.

It is no longer the situation, as in 2014, that one side can be exclusively accused of corruption, with the help of the likes of Anna Hazare and Acharya Ramdev. What they fought for in 2014, a powerful Lok Pal, now exists as a toothless, workless body. 

The voters are, therefore, dispirited and listless. The situation is not improved by vituperation and badmouthing in the electoral process, led by no less than the Prime Minister. He accused the Congress of wanting to rob the people of their hard-earned wealth and possessions to redistribute to “infiltrators” and “people who multiply fast”, which was read by the media and others as a swipe against Muslims.

In election times, it is unusual for the head of a government to create hostility in the minds of one section of society against another, nor is it permissible under the election code of conduct. It is like an American presidential candidate accusing another of robbing the whites to pay pigmented people.

Similar is his statement that the Congress manifesto provides for assessing the wealth of households through surveys to redistribute it. Others, too, followed his lead. A BJP MP said that the party must win 370 seats to rewrite the Constitution. Fortunately, even the party realized that he had gone a bit too far, suspended him, and, since then, have been screaming from the housetops that even Ambedkar cannot change the Constitution.

The badmouthing of the other side is not confined to the BJP alone. In 2019, Rahul Gandhi made much of his slogan, “Chowkidar chor hai”, although he looks less indiscreet this year. Amit Shah’s statement that the BJP would remove reservation of government jobs for Muslims was twisted by the morphing of the video clip to show that he said all reservations for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and others would be taken away. This is now being investigated by the Delhi Police, who have asked the Telangana Chief Minister and several other Telangana Congress leaders to come to Delhi amid the election season.

The Delhi Chief Minister, one of the leading figures heading the fight against the Manmohan Singh government in 2014, is already in jail, along with his Jharkhand counterpart. I understand the Supreme Court was perplexed about why he was so arrested just before the election when the ED had been investigating the case for two or three years. In Kerala, on election day, a CPM leader says he met Javadekar of the BJP, along with a” Dalal”, triggering speculations on the stance of the CPM. Mamata Bannerji in Bengal rails against the BJP, the Left and the Congress all at once

How will mutual recrimination affect the electorate? Rasmus Skytte did a PhD dissertation on the subject “Why politicians seem so rude and how it affects citizens” for the Aarhus University in Denmark. He wrote, “Disagreement is inherent in democratic politics. People have always differed on how material and immaterial resources should be distributed; competing demands are a central part of classic theories of democracy.

However, scholars and other observers are becoming increasingly concerned that politicians can no longer express such disagreement without being disagreeable. Many fear that politics is becoming infested with shouting and name-calling and that insults are gradually replacing arguments in political debates.”

Ultimately, the citizen has to grind his teeth and suffer it. The political satirist HL Mencken probably said it best: “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.”



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