Indian Elections 2016: Pandora’s Box!
By Innamburan, our Chennai Correspondant
“Once you hear the details of victory, it is hard to distinguish it from a defeat.” – Jean-Paul Sartre
India has a well-oiled Election Commission (EC) that gives the politicians a run for their money. It takes over the reins, rotates the officials, investigates complaints and keeps the politicians at bay. A model of good governance run with the same bureaucracy that serves the political masters, it runs a tight ship. This did not however, guarantee unfettered freedom in voting, in spite of admirable awareness campaigns. This is so, as the political establishment dumped ideology into the dustbin, formed indefensible alliances and the election manifestos were mere copycat rhetoric. Pre-election confabulations confounded the average citizen. Violation of the ethical guidelines of the EC was visible everywhere.
Wily as ever, the politicians adopted dubious stratagems that included cash for votes on a grand scale, freebies and grandiose promises. The media freely spoke about millions of rupees being distributed for garnering votes by the leading parties in Tamil Nadu; the EC could confiscate only a fraction of it, which was huge in itself. The pre-election alliances made by the political parties were outrageously on caste/community/cash lines and opportunism prevailed. The Congress aligned with the Left in West Bengal and fought the Left in Kerala!
It is not easy for me to pen my reflections in Confluence on this subject. I am a proud Indian with no hesitation in speaking my mind to resident argumentative Indians. They know the nuances or at least pretend! One has to be rather cautious in writing for the Indian Diaspora abroad and a global audience, lest the sense of perspective is lost in the quicksand of an overly critical, negative and gloomy outlook. I have done my best to escape that trap, by sharing my optimism for a better tomorrow.
We may now introspect over the relevance of the Sartre quote. T.J.S George, the columnist noted for his neutrality, wrote in the Indian Express on Sunday, the 22nd May, 2016, that the problem was that the losers never acknowledge their mistakes and that the winners think they would be winning for ever. To my mind, all the parties lost out in the litmus test of representative democracy and its onerous responsibilities, recalling the metaphor of the square peg violently thrust upon a round hole. Thus, the Indian General Elections 2016 is a disturbing trend of the party system preying upon the vitals of the Sovereign Democratic Republic of India. More dismal news follows.
Let us look at certain swings to get the hang of it. The Congress and the Bharatiya Janatha Party (BJP), the most visible national parties, lost their shirts everywhere. In Assam, the Congress could not find a robust local leader and lost out. In Kerala, the Congress Raj was so corroded by corruption that the Left made a triumphal re-entry. The BJP, admittedly, won decisively in Assam, but was humiliatingly routed in Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry, scoring ‘a duck’ in the cricketers’ lingo. Its past and present presidents lost out in Kerala; the solitary winner Mr.O.Rajagopal, known for his gentlemanly ways, might have won, even as an Independent. BJP forgot that it had a sizeable Muslim electorate to be persuaded of its professed secularism. The Left will not be having a cake-walk either, as the people of Kerala are socially conscious and the frozen ideology of the hardliners will not sell. Mamata Banerjee won by the simple trick of blaming others, in West Bengal, notwithstanding scams.
Political theory teaches us that Franchise, Recall, Referendum and Plebiscite are the four pillars of a dynamic, functioning democracy. India chooses the Franchise only. The Supreme Court upheld in 2013 the right of voters to reject all candidates contesting the elections, endorsing an EC submission in 2009 that it wished to offer a “none of the above” (NOTA) option on ballots to the voter. SC hoped that it would go a long way in cleansing the political system of the country. The specific symbol for NOTA, a ballot paper with a black cross across it, was introduced on 18 September 2015.
NOTA reigned supreme in Tamil Nadu elections this year, cutting across party lines. All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) Minister Gokula Indira lost by 1687 votes in Chennai (NOTA: 4,048). Thirumavalavan, the leader of a subaltern party lost by 87 votes (NOTA: 1,025). Congress lost by 441 votes, in Karur (NOTA: 3,595) Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) lost by 982 votes in Bargur (NOTA: 1,392). Ten more DMK candidates lost to NOTA this way. In sum, NOTA is likely to emerge as a serious force to reckon with, in coming elections. I share a wishful thinking. The future NOTA may have an in-built recall for casting negative votes!
DMK and AIADMK held sway in Tamil Nadu in turns, since 1967 and the trend continues. All fringe parties have been so routed that an aspirant for the Chief Minister’s post lost his deposit. The contest was close and as The Hindu newspaper pointed out, eighteen constituencies across Tamil Nadu could have made the difference between victory and loss for the AIADMK and DMK. In Radhapuram and Kattumanarkoil, the AIADMK won by the skin of its teeth with victory margins of 49 and 87 votes, respectively – the lowest ever. The silver lining is that DMK can act as a responsible opposition and that party has already declared such an intention.
I end with an amusing spectacle. Periyar, a reformer, rebel, atheist and a loose cannon, all rolled into one, is the mentor of the Dravidian parties. His statue in the epicentre of Chennai city carries the inscription ‘Only idiots believe in God’. Both parties outdo the genuine devotees when it comes to pujas and penances in all temples. Maybe some rewriting of that credo might soften the blow of NOTA.