The signs are ominous; we may be looking at the most dreadful General Election in India’s history.
The air is full of unfinished administrative business and unresolved personal issues of politicians. A large section of Indians still don’t get enough food or money to get by. There’s an undeclared war on women and there’s barely anyone we can trust in public life.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha poll, we could thus be scraping the bottom of the barrel. What is the single big idea of 2014? Where’s the resounding call to action? Where are the thinkers and doers? Where’s the sacrifice? What happened to reform – economic, judicial, education, health and law enforcement?
The failure of parties
The CPI, one of India’s first three political parties, has beseeched Jayalalithaa for help merely to have one of its Rajya Sabha members reelected to the Upper House of parliament. This robs them of any chance of opposing the AIADMK, which is fighting huge corruption cases from its recent past.
The CPI[M] is moribund; it hasn’t said or done anything to show it has introspected and has a fresh plan. The DMK’s first family can’t even bank on each other. Lalu Prasad is relying more on hatred of his opponents than anything else.
The Samajwadi Party and the BSP are where they were a decade ago: casteist, selfish, vindictive and in awe of big criminals.
The Northeast is almost as unlivable as it was, with long hours of power cuts every day and petrol sold illegally at times for ₹2000 a litre. Punjab is high and haughty, in denial of its crippling addiction and a deadly reputation as a hub of cancer.
Himachal Pradesh is still the drug haven of India. The original sick states of India – BIMARU [Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh] haven’t shed the tag. Odisha, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh are equally sick.
The barren horizon
Things are so bad that Nitish Kumar’s recent walkout from the NDA – on grounds of persona and policy – comes across as the only prime ministerial act of the year.
This is so because: there is nothing to inspire in our polity. The quality of politicians is patchy at best; their campaigns are bereft of plans or ideas. Political parties are mostly comatose; none of them barring the AIADMK, the YSR Congress and the Samajwadi Party are ready for the big election. These three have more or less settled on their candidates which means their electoral work has begun.
The nagging thought is that self-interest is the driving force. This is reinforced by the empty and cacophonic crosstalk on television news channels by people so down the ladder that even their parties don’t listen to them.
No new talent is on display, and youngsters and elders have let us down. The union government is lame duck at best, having told the world what it thinks of itself and the people it is expected to serve with a frightening induction of non-performers into the cabinet.
So barren is the landscape that we could most likely regret electing anyone we do in the next General Election.
It wasn’t so until now.
What past elections meant
The first three Lok Sabha elections in India were flush with the energy of nation-building. Making mistakes, taking the right decisions, growing up and marveling at what India could become.
In 1967 first burst of opposition energy showed that options were emerging. In 1971 India’s first and only big war victory [which led to the creation of Bangladesh] triggered euphoria.
1977 was a rousing defeat of tyranny, 1980 a sort of realisation that things were not right and 1984 a form of public penance and remorse in large sections that we had to kill our own [the Indira Gandhi assassination].
1989 was about disgust with corruption and 1991 a hesitant show of goodwill that follows assassinations. The three elections between 1996 and 1999 were the foray of the rightwing and an examination of non-Congress non-BJP options.
2004 and 2009 were two genuine coalition experiments.
Since the south offers more interesting prospects, let’s start there. In Andhra Pradesh, a bellwether state, there is a real and awful prospect of electing a dubious, paranoid, autocratic, possibly law-breaking, YS Jaganmohan Reddy to a position of control.
Social wounds like poverty, feudalism, absurd and domineering land holdings, corrupt police, venal politicians, a media you’d rather run from, atrocious films and pathetic television, and real estate greed make the state cry.
In addition, there are the skin-deep Telangana politicians who want a state but who won’t tell the world just how it will be different.
Karnataka already has the first legislative assembly of millionaires in the country with personal interests far ahead of social responsibility. The Congress won here only because the BJP had sunk so low and not because the Congress energised people with an inclusive, secular, brilliant plan to make Karnataka a role model state.
The Lok Sabha poll could be a repeat.
The awful choices
Tamil Nadu has its claustrophobic politics where everyone loses their voice if the government of the day even so much as lifts a finger [as in the recent Vishwaroopam episode]. Vast sections of people are fired by caste and emotional logic. They make tricky political choices.
Kerala has a fossilised Left, their Congress counterparts and a snaky RSS with charges of bomb-making against it. [A suspected RSS worker died recently while transporting a bomb]. There’s no big plan to revive the state as it struggles with an unwanted influx of Keralites they thought had settled in Saudi Arabia.
Odisha and West Bengal seem to be slipping into anarchy. Odisha is the new Maoist hub while Bengal has a mock a day under the Trinamool Congress.
The regressive Uttar Pradesh weighs down so heavily on its people that few know what to do when the sun sets. They drink, fight and drug their way to sleep. Everything that can be wrong is wrong in Uttar Pradesh – liquor policy, police lawlessness, poor education, terrible public health, and a general surrender to violence.
Maharashtra has the Senas to tie it down to narrow identity politics bereft of progressive policy. Even the NCP looks shaky and more like its parent body, the Indian National Congress.
Om Prakash Chautala of Haryana is in the middle of a prison sentence for having cheated in the appointment of teachers. He oversaw the selection of fake and junk teachers and took money for the jobs.
Imagine. The man who was chief minister more than once thought it was fine to fill schools with junk and impair the growth of children. For this alone he shouldn’t get a single vote.
In the absence of an opposition you can trust, the Congress Haryana government allows people like Robert Vadra to do what they did. No state has allowed the realtor to muscle in as much as Haryana has.
That leaves Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand, Delhi and Gujarat. J&K is mercifully peaceful and might have a chance if it stays on the path of reason.
Uttarakhand has its share of greedy, corrupt public figures but it hasn’t been wrecked like Jharkhand has been. Delhi has officially been declared a prosperous city but it is also the rape capital of India.
Gujarat is beginning to look so politically different that it might be mistaken for another country. The enterprising Gujarati people have kept the state affluent. But they have so kneeled before Narendra Modi that it makes others wonder about what happens in Gujarat.
Where this leaves us
We have old men saying they are fine options – like LK Advani and Manmohan Singh. We have younger men who have let us down – like Varun Gandhi, Sachin Pilot, Milind Deora and Anurag Thakur [who has been blasted by IS Bindra for a recent cover-up in the BCCI]. We have the venals – Madhu Koda, Jaganmohan Reddy, BS Yeddyurappa, A Raja, Chautala, etc.
We have those who evoke perpetual doubt – Lalu Prasad, Amar Singh, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mayawati, Jayalalithaa, the Badals of Punjab, etc.
We have the nauseating Charan Das Mahant, a union minister and recently appointed Congress head in Chhattisgarh. He is willing to sweep the floor of the Congress office for Sonia Gandhi; he can’t bring himself to say anything for the suffering people of Chhattisgarh. For this, Mahant deserves an electoral thrashing.
We have a few good men who don’t get their due – Jairam Ramesh, Ajay Maken, Shashi Tharoor and AK Antony.
And then we have the big fish, Modi and Rahul Gandhi. We worry about both; we have a sense of unease about both.
We seem to be descending into a bottomless pit of decay where it might be a matter of my temple is better than your mosque or vice-versa. Or my family is better than yours.
Where does all this leave us? With the terrible bottom line: there is no sense of the nation in the coming election.
We have rarely been so bereft of confidence and so weak at our borders. We are in danger of, as Manmohan Singh said, becoming a joke.
The next General Election is a highly inconvenient one.
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Vijay Simha is an independent journalist and sobriety campaigner based out of New Delhi. His most recent journalism assignment was as executive editor with The Financial World, New Delhi, and tehelka.com.
He was a guest on Season 1 of the popular Indian TV show Satyamev Jayate, hosted by Aamir Khan.
Vijay blogs here and may be cont acted at firstname.lastname@example.org.