If there’s been one wholly heartening feature of this sprawling, noisy election, it is the soaring voter turnouts in constituencies across states. In large part, the credit must go to the Election Commission, which deployed technology, diligence and imagination to draw voters to the polling booths. The aggressive mobilisation strategies — some old and many that were newly minted — used by political parties also reached out to new, first-time voters and larger sections of the electorate. In the end, the vaulting turnouts attest to the fact that, with all its imperfections, India’s democracy remains an engaging and capacious idea — as voting percentages in Naxal affected areas have underlined, it retains its proven capacity to turn rebels into stakeholders. But the high turnouts of Elections 2014 are not just an accomplishment. For the new government, they are also an enormous responsibility.
The UPA’s second term was marked by a tangible and growing disenchantment of the people with the government because of the perceived slowing down of governance and eruption of corruption scandals against a backdrop of unchecked economic decline. At the same time, it was clear that this had not resulted in a mood of apathy or resignation. On the contrary, before it disintegrated, the Anna Hazare mobilisation showed that the people were not subdued by, but increasingly angry with, the conceits and complacencies embedded in the governing structures and processes. They were impatient, above all, with its terrible remoteness. While the Anna campaign lasted, we saw some of the surging resentment spill over into the streets, and even result in the baying for short cuts and magical one-stop solutions, like the all-cleansing, all-policing Lokpal. It has now fed into the palpable yearning for change that marked this election among voters across the country.
Even as the new government must find ways to help restore the authority of vital institutions that are seen to have been undermined in the last few years — be it the prime minister’s office or indeed Parliament — it must also make an effort to institutionalise greater government responsiveness to a more demanding people. A more talkative government would be a beginning. While a popular clamour for a more decisive Centre was heard in the course of this campaign, it would be a mistake for any government to confuse decisiveness with centralisation, or to ignore the imperative to respect and make space for diversity.