When the people want a change

Last Updated: Tue, Jun 25, 2019 11:56 hrs
First phase of Lok Sabha polls

I remember the last time people were so keen to vote during the national elections that they would ensure their names were in the voters’ list weeks in advance, take days off from work to journey to their hometowns, and exercise their ballot.

The year was 2014. My name was not on the voters’ list that year, and if it had been, I would have voted against the Congress, voted for change.

The party’s second innings had been characterised by a series of scams and I wanted to do my bit to ensure that the leaders who had abused the trust of the populace did not (a) have another chance to abuse this trust (b) think they could get away with it.

I remember the last time people in my state were keen to vote. Then, too, they wanted change. The year was 2011. The Tamil Nadu elections of 2006 had been marred by charges of buying votes. In 2011, too, money was recovered from vehicle checks, and one can only assume this is a small percentage of the money that actually changed hands.

When Jayalalithaa came to power, ending a reign that was characterised by exploitation of government machinery to serve personal interests, I remember thinking that even a dictatorial government would be better than a corrupt one. Surprisingly enough, she was less dictatorial in this stint, which ensured she got her second innings – albeit by the skin of her teeth – even after the floods.

The last five years in the country have shown what absolute power can do.

Now, too, there is a wave of anti-incumbency, no small thanks to the ineptitude of the Election Commission in the days leading up to the elections.

The horror of demonetisation has largely been forgotten by those who choose to believe it served the ends it was meant to serve.

The invasion of privacy characterised by the Aadhaar initiative is forgiven by those who believe they are in constant danger of unknown terrors.

Every draconian diktat issued by this government has been forgiven by the bhakts.

Now, when most people who aren’t branding themselves “Chowkidar”s are keen to see change, there is some need for caution.

The idea of the Aadhaar was mooted during the UPA’s reign. Its execution has been terribly botched, but it wasn’t the least invasive idea to begin with.

The current government has done much that deserves to be chastised, but the Opposition hasn’t done nearly enough to earn praise.

The BJP has been using the state’s machinery to spread election messages. Doordarshan aired the Prime Minister’s “Main Bhi Chowkidar” event, and has uploaded it on to its YouTube channel. In response to the Congress’ objections, the Election Commission (EC) has simply asked for an explanation from the BJP.

Yogi Adityanath’s reference to the Indian Army as “Modiji ki Sena” only received a gentle rap on the knuckles from the EC, and this has had such little impact that, at his rallies in Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, and Karnataka, Narendra Modi himself called to voters to “dedicate” their choice to the “martyrs” of Pulwama, and the heroes of Balakot, equating patriotism with support for the armed forces, and equating support for the armed forces with support for the BJP.

The BJP has been clever about its campaigning. The Modi biopic has received a certificate for the Central Board for Film Certification just as the first phase of voting begins. The EC had to invoke “extraordinary powers” to stop the film’s release. Sweet-boxes saying “Namo”, but with a short “Na” syllable were photographed being distributed at the hustings.

The BJP has also been either incorruptible or smarter than the previous regime, since no allegation of corruption against the powers-that-be has actually been proven.

But there is an equally dangerous trend in the liberal media.

Keen to find an alternative to the BJP, they have as one begun to support the Congress. Images of Priyanka Vadra and Rahul Gandhi helping an injured journalist went viral. Priyanka is being touted as the true heir to Indira Gandhi, and the latter’s endangering of democracy for fear of losing power and the reign of terror that ensued during the Emergency appear to have been forgotten.

For most of my life, I have seen a predictable game of musical chairs in Tamil Nadu. Only in 2016 did the government manage to overcome anti-incumbency, for the first time in more than a quarter of a century.

Yes, we do need alternatives to keep a government on its toes.

Yes, the last five years have been scarily dictatorial.

But we must remember that we’re often between a rock and a hard place.

So far, none of the politicians in the running for power have proven themselves incorruptible, or for that matter, even reasonable.

Perhaps the solution is to, as Tamil Nadu did for so long, alternate between the devil and the deep sea.

I, for one, have often felt that the state and centre function best when the elections throw up a hung parliament.

More Columns by Nandini Krishnan:

Abhinandan Varthaman: Hero, yes, but victim first


Tokenism won't stop terror attacks

Pulwama attack: When humans become symbols


The legislative dangers of election year

Priyanka and the inheritance of power

The G.O.A.T vote: When opinion offends

The hooligans in our homes

Why the Ambanis should rule India

Ten things the chowkidars failed to protect


Nandini is the author of Invisible Men: Inside India's Transmasculine Networks (2018) and Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage (2013). She tweets @k_nandini. Her website is: www.nandinikrishnan.com