All you need to know about The Indian Election

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By Eshwar Sundaresan

The T20 Cricket World Cup is currently being played out in Bangladesh. India have already reached the semi-finals of this prestigious event. But the hoopla over this development is but a fraction of what it would normally be. Why? Because a more spectacular, more raucous and more unpredictable show is in town. The rest of the world would term it The Great Indian Election. One seventh of the planet will go to the polls in a few short weeks. Well, here are the top three lows and highs of this one-of-a-kind show.

The lows

Religious divide

Not a single party is talking explicitly about the construction or demolition of religious edifices. The overarching issue is that of clean governance. Buried under this heartening development is the uneasy realization that divisive politics still rules the roost.

A majority of Indians identify themselves along the lines of caste and religion, and then along the lines of language, class and other parameters. As such, political parties draw exquisite strategies to woo certain segments of the population. They even devise the winning equation (this caste + that religion = electoral majority).

Needless to say, the same is happening in this election as well.

Dynastic politics

On 27 Jan 2014, Rahul Gandhi gave an interview to Arnab Sengupta, the shrillest television anchor in India, a decision that he no doubt regrets. In this interview, the King-elect of the Congress party spoke about transparency, empowerment and meritocracy. And since he isn’t really a bright man, he didn’t shine the light of logic or brilliance on any of these topics. In fact, the prominence he enjoys as a birthright made his whole conversation ironical.

Unfortunately, irony is wasted on Indian politicians. For Gandhi isn’t the only scion in the fray. Nor is Congress the only party guilty in this regard. Joining the Grand Old Party are regional parties such as SP, DMK, SAD, JD(S), BJD, RJD, SS to name just a few. Leaders of these parties will continue to swear by democratic frameworks while promoting dynastic rule within their own four walls.

The only national party that is the least guilty of this sin – the BJP – has, in the past, advocated the utopian qualities of other dynasties. Like that of Rama of Ayodhya. So one is simply left wondering…

Coalition drama

Devising winning formulae is not restricted just to the masses. In addition to figuring out which caste/religion/class combination offers victory, political parties also have to figure out which political parties can become fruitful allies.

Allies can be pre-poll or post-poll. Pre-poll alliances either continue from the previous election or are formed under the conviction that a party’s electoral base would either welcome or not mind the alliance. In other words, the combined ideological position will not be a hindrance to either of the parties involved.

What makes Indian elections interesting are the post-poll alliances. They bring together the opportunism of politics and the thrill of horse racing. This particular sport attracts the world’s greatest mathematicians and statisticians.

Once the government is formed, the major ruling party continues to assuage its allies and terms this phenomenon coalition dharma. Perhaps it’s more sensible to call it coalition drama.

And in a diverse nation such as India, with regional identities strengthening regional parties, coalition drama is difficult to eliminate.

 

The highs

A sense of outrage

This election season, business Brands are leveraging on a collective patriotic-cum-social fervour. And it’s happening in a specific manner. For instance, women are asked to vote for leaders who empower women. And the disenfranchised are asked to vote for those who act on their behalf. These sponsored messages are usually accompanied by a sense of outrage. Women are reminded of brutal rapes. The disenfranchised are informed about relentless corruption.

Clearly, political parties – especially those in the opposition – want to encash the sense of outrage felt by the public. Now, if only the outrage becomes a permanent fixture in Indian society! Politicians might feel obligated to deliver clean and effective governance. Because their closest ally since independence – public apathy – no longer exists in all hearts and at all times.

Aamir Khan’s compelling social narrative

Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan launched his socially-relevant high-voltage talk show a couple of years ago. Named Satyamev Jayate (Truth always triumphs), his well-researched and well-choreographed show delivers top-notch content to an eager nation. And is it any coincidence that the show made this year’s reappearance during election season?

Alright, let’s not debate on the timing. Let’s focus on the fact that the show tells us where we are and where we can be as a nation. All that stands in the way of progress, we’re shown, is a defeatist belief system. One can’t help but feel that strong seeds of change are being sown every Sunday morning at 11am.

The confusion kindled by AAP

India is chaotic. Period. A little more flux in the air is no big deal. That’s one of the reasons Indian society has easily absorbed the whole new flavour of politics provided by the Aam Aadmi Party. The party is defined by its hatred for corruption and almost militant stance against misgovernance.

In any other country, this ideological slant would be dropped like a hot potato the moment the party’s own fallibilities are unearthed. Not so in India. Despite the AAP’s sputters, stutters and jitters, its brand of politics makes sense in a landscape driven by hegemonic, anti-people political frameworks.

If it weren’t for the presence of the AAP, this election would have been yet another change of guard and nothing else.

In conclusion

The last time Indians anticipated elections to this extent was in 1977. Back then, an insecure Indira Gandhi had revoked many democratic rights and assumed virtual dictatorship of the country. And when a false sense of invincibility prompted her to declare elections, the electorate overwhelmingly voted her out of power.

This telling episode from the past proves one thing: the Indian electorate might often feel helpless or opportunistic, but it has never been stupid.

So no matter what happens in this election, do feel free to see it as the deliberate resolve to write a new chapter in Indian history. As of now, nobody can truly predict the content of that chapter. And that’s the true testimony to Indian democracy.