A difficulty with Indian elections is that they don't take the country forward. At the end of the Second World War, the hero who won it for England, Winston Churchill, was rejected by the voters so that Britain could keep pace with a changing post-war world. When Barack Obama appeared on the scene, Americans seized the opportunity to peel off one more layer of racial prejudice from their history.
We do take an occasional forward step – as we did when Indira Gandhi was trounced after the Emergency or when Nitish Kumar was chosen to wipe out the Lalu Prasad disgrace. For every forward step, however, we take several steps backward. Today cynicism and corruption dominate. As Hyderabad MP Assaduddin Owaisi put it (in his talk with an American official, now revealed through WikiLeaks), giving bribes to voters may be illegal “but that is the great thing about democracy”.
He meant of course Indian democracy which sends crooks, mafiosi, communalists and family retainers to Parliament. Fighting elections on the basis of issues has become a forgotten art. The state elections scheduled for next month are already showing signs of cynical manipulation aimed at personal profit.
Note that no party is bothered about political morality even in appearances. The BJP depicts Karunanidhi's DMK as an epitome of evil. Which is true. But next door in Karnataka is an epitome of evil that will make Karunanidhi envious. Yet, the BJP holds up the Yeddyurappa-Reddy axis as an epitome of virtue. It makes the party a laughing stock, but who cares.
Many years of unchallenged power by the DMK have not taken Tamil Nadu foward though it has taken the husband-wives-sons-stepsons-daughters-nephews-hangerson circus very far indeed. How long can this electoral farce go on? Jayalalitha, though her record is not enlightening, looks angelic by comparison; at least she has no extended family for the people to look after. For our collective dignity if not for Tamil Nadu's deliverance, we must hope that the Imperial Family will get a drubbing this time.
Did more than three decades of uninterrupted Left rule take West Bengal forward? That state has India's most moribund passenger buses still in service, and the trams look like ancient ruins. More damning is the abject level of poverty in the state. Tens of thousands of young Bengalis migrate to distant states like Kerala where they are forced to live in pitiable conditions but where there are jobs and better wages.
There is no certainty that an eccentric like Mamta Bannerji with weird notions of administration will bring about the economic salvation that Bengal deserves. Besides the CPM has adopted a policy of “renewal” allotting 149 of its 210 seats to youthful first-timers. Their rural strength may largely be intact, too. The best thing that can happen is for the Trinamool group to get just a bare working majority so that a strong Left opposition can keep the Government on its toes.
In Kerala the Left front had a historical opportunity to get re-elected again because of (a) the popular initiatives of Chief Minister Achuthanandan and (b) the dominance in the Congress-led front of men who are notorious for a variety of evils, from corruption to wanton womanising. But the opportunity was thrown away by a vengeful CPM party secretary and his syndicate who sabotaged the Chief Minister's moves at every turn. They tried to deny him a seat this time too, but public outrage forced them to retreat. Only the people's disgust with the looters and philanderers in the Congress-led camp will help the Left this time.
Small men dominate our politics, their smallness surfacing most dramatically at election time. Unpopular communists keep popular communists out, Congressmen secretly work for the defeat of Congressmen, the Muslim League disregards its moral postures and fields the immoral, BJP “sells” votes in constituencies where it cannot win. When bribery, deceipt and selfishness become “the great thing about democracy”, leaders enrich themselves, cadres suffer and India loses. A pity.