Elections to the 15th Lok Sabha are only ten weeks away. Can anything be said about their outcome without the fear of being contradicted? Yes. First,there is no wave in favour of any single political party,although,given an alternative,people would like to vote for change at the Centre. After all,there is little in the performance of the UPA government to suggest that it will be the beneficiary of a positive pro-incumbency vote. Second,the electorates natural preference would be for a strong and stable government,capable of lasting the full term of five years without being blackmailed and without falling to the temptation of bribing MPs to stay afloat,as Dr Manmohan Singhs government did by enacting the cash-for-votes scandal.
The reasons supporting the expectation that India should have a strong and stable government are so compelling that the point neednt be stressed at all. The grave challenges to our national security posed by forces that have been exporting terror to India; the alarming inadequacies in the governance system to tackle these challenges,as was glaringly exposed by the Mumbai terror attacks; the worsening political situation in Pakistan which is bound to further endanger our national security and social peace; the threat to livelihood security created by the worst economic crisis that our country has faced in recent times; the unmet expectations of crores of young Indians; and rapidly spreading corruption and criminalisation that is sapping the vitality of our political and governance systemsall these are troubling aspects of the pre-poll reality that nobody can deny. A weak,infirm and unfocussed government will not only fail to address these multiple problems,but actually render them more difficult to solve later.
Some leaders of smaller political parties are,of course,hoping for a verdict so fractured that neither of the two national partiesthe BJP and the Congresswould be able to form the next government. This situation,they reckon,would place a new Deve Gowda or I.K. Gujral in the prime ministerial chair. Between 1996 and 1999,when four governments were destabilised,some leftist commentators bizarrely welcomed this debilitating bout of instability on the ground that it contributed to the vibrancy of Indian democracy. Actually,it was a situation tailor-made for the likes of Harkishan Singh Surjeet to play a role in national politics far weightier than his partys parliamentary strength would normally permit. This time around,some wheeler-dealer politicos have been playing this role with far greater flamboyance and far less scruples in the post-nuclear deal phase of the UPA government. Those who delivered opposition MPs to the UPA during the crucial trust vote in July last at a price of around Rs 25 crore per MP are hoping that Elections 2009 would give them a larger scope to practise their sleazy brand of politics.
Whose responsibility is it to ensure that the polls produce a stable and strong government? It lies on the shoulders of both the voters and the parties seeking their votes. Generally speaking,the voters own responsibility is not emphasised in the political discourse. But the time has come to do so by telling the electorate that a lot is at stake for the country. Let us not take our democracy for granted. Let us not subject Indias governance to the travails of weak and unstable coalitions. Deve Gowdas Janata Dal,for example,had won only 46 seats in 1996. A repeat of that farcical experiment in government-making would be a sure prescription for moneybags to become more active and further pollute the political process. It would also tempt Indias enemies to hatch new conspiracies to further weaken our country from within by instigating the forces of terrorism,Naxalism and separatism.
Every election is a test not only for the contesting political parties but also for the voters. Democracy gets enriched only when both make an honest effort to act as per the lessons of previous elections. The Indian voter has the experience of voting in 14 Lok Sabha elections so far,and also in numerous Vidhan Sabha and local body elections. One of the lessons of this experience that deserves to be applied in April-May 2009 is this: voters should be guided primarily by national issues,and only secondarily by such legitimate concerns and considerations related to caste,religion,region and local factors. In short,every voter must vote,and vote responsibly.
Some readers might ask: What makes you think that we do not vote responsibly? Reserve your advice on responsible conduct to political parties,who need it the most. Let Party A or Alliance X first prove that it is worthy of a decisive mandate. Point taken. If no party or pre-poll alliance presents itself as worthy of winning more than 272 seats,it cannot blame the electorate for its failure.
Therefore,a big responsibility today rests on the shoulders of the two national partiesthe Congress and the BJP. Congress has to work really hard because it carries a heavy burden of anti-incumbency,which is compounded by its quandary over the leadership issue. The BJP,on the other hand,carries the historical handicap of not being in the reckoning at all in several big states. Further,it has also squandered away precious time in the opposition battling internal problems rather than on presenting an attractive alternative agenda of governance and development. It should at least learn from its own recent debacle in the Delhi assembly elections that the voters are not interested in hearing only negative propaganda about the incumbent government. They want to know: How will you be different? There is very little time for the BJP to answer that question.
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