2014: Why we must get it right
by Virendra Parekh on 14 Apr 2014 6 Comments

Polling has already begun in the most important election in India since Independence, barring 1977. 1977 was about continuity of freedom and democracy. 2014 is about the content of freedom and democracy. The whole country has become a Kurukshetra, field for an epic battle.


On the surface, the conflict is between a leaderless ruling coalition widely recognized as weak, corrupt and inefficient, and a resurgent opposition led by a charismatic leader with a proven record of governance and growth. With every passing day, the realization is sinking deeper in the consciousness of the people that the outcome of this election will determine the political stability, economic growth and security environment over the next ten, and not just five, years. That in itself would make it an important election.   


But the faultlines run deeper. As we have said earlier, the confrontation is between the incumbent decrepit political order largely fashioned by Jawaharlal Nehru and his political heirs on one side and an emerging vibrant Bharatvarsh on the other; between a vulgar politics of caste and communalism under tired shibboleths of secularism and social justice and a no-nonsense politics of development and aspirations that looks for and rewards nothing but solid performance on the ground; between a polity in which the government offers crumbs and crutches to select groups to retain their support and a polity in which the State opens the gates of advancement for all.


That is what Election 2014 is all about. This is what has converted a routine periodic jostling among politicians for power into a nation’s struggle to redefine, reinvent and rejuvenate itself.


The immediate concerns - prices, jobs, incomes, growth, safety of women folk, internal security, social disharmony - are staring at the people in the face. Economic growth has collapsed even as consumer inflation remains high. Jobs are growing even more slowly than the GDP. Agriculture is losing viability as a commercial enterprise. Investment cycle remains in a downturn. For the first time in 25 years, we are heading towards two consecutive years of sub-5 per cent growth.


India’s security is also in disarray. On one hand, India has emerged as the largest importer of arms in the world. On the other, the country’s defense forces are short on critical equipment. What are we buying then? There is a severe shortage of junior and middle level officers who ordinarily conduct most of the field operations. Incidents keep happening that damage their morale. The Prime Minister has almost washed his off all security-related matters. Chinese incursions into Indian territory have been ignored and there is no coherent strategy to handle Afghanistan after the US withdrawal.


Worries over economy and security, literally life and death matters to the ordinary people, are of little concern to the ruling elite which is focused on a single goal: keeping Narendra Modi away from power.


Since it is a fight to the finish for both camps, the kid gloves are off. The old order is fighting back with unprecedented ferocity, deploying all ideological and political tools at its command. Demonisation of Modi is at its peak. Muslims are constantly reminded that they will not be safe under a Modi-led government. Caste loyalties are being reemphasized. All sorts of freebies are offered to the people. Regional parties are positioning themselves for rich pickings in the event of a fractured mandate.


The stakeholders and supporters of the current establishment – political and ideological – are not confined to Lutyens Delhi. Is there a link between Arvind Kejriwal getting support from organisations in Pakistan and some West Asian countries and his shifting focus from Congress to NaMo? In Washington, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission held a hearing on “The Plight of Religious Minorities in India” on Capitol Hill on April 4 where several US lawmakers voiced concern for the future of religious minorities in India.


As it happens, the old tools are discovered to be too blunt to cut any ice with the voters this time. Rahul Gandhi’s condescending talk of Rights-based governance and generous promises of right to health and right to homesteads (in addition to right to food and education) leaves young voters cold. When Sonia Gandhi meets Imam Bukhari to solicit his support for averting a split in ‘secular’ vote, when Mulayam Singh rails against death penalty for rape, when Mukhtar Ansari withdraws his candidature from Varanasi so as not to split anti-Modi vote, people see secularism for what it is and has always been: divisive and separatist politics of Islam under a different name. Newspaper reports speak of caste loyalties being set aside in favour of real issues like jobs, prices, incomes and opportunities. In Haryana, next door to Delhi, one Congress candidate after another has dropped Rahul/Sonia names and portraits from his election hoardings and posters.


For the first time, the Muslim vote bank runs the risk of going bust following a run on it by the secularist parties. There is a real prospect of Muslim vote being split effectively for it is not easy to decide who among these parties deserves it most.


More encouraging are the signs that at least some Muslims have started seeing through the elaborate con game played upon them in the name of protecting them from ‘Hindu wolves’. They have started asking what exactly the secularist parties have done to improve their lot. In other words, quite a few of them are struggling to rise above the sterile politics of identity and act as normal citizens of a democratic country, holding rulers to account. If this trend gathers momentum, it bodes very well for everyone, including Muslims themselves.


But no election is over until the last vote is counted. We do not know as yet how strong the new and healthy trends are. Old habits die hard. In a very real sense, these elections are more a test for the people than for the politicians. If we fail to make the right choice, we shall be condemned to a long period of political instability, poor economic growth, entrenched corruption and vulnerability to bullying by other countries, far and near.


Fortunately, a credible alternative is available. Expectations from Narendra Modi run sky high. Nobody can guarantee that he will meet them all or even most of them. However, Mr. Modi has a credible record of governance and growth that places him far ahead of all other contenders in the fray. That record encourages us to believe he will be able to redeem India’s tryst with destiny very substantially, if not wholly.


The current election offers an unprecedented opportunity to the people to get rid of ideas, policies and approaches that have divided and confused the society, prevented the country from realising its economic potential and made it fair game for enemies both within and without. It offers an opportunity to opt for politics based on responsive and accountable governance, where leaders, parties and governments are judged by their conduct, character and performance and not by their caste or community. 


If you want to put an end to dynastic politics centred on the ‘first family’, if you want to call the bluff named secularism, if you want to rid the polity of divisive politics of caste, if you want to elect a government that will work for peace, prosperity and security for all, then this is your day.


As a people we have wasted too much time, we have suffered too long in silence. Now the time has come to speak up and tell these nincompoops that their game is up, to get rid of these parasites, send them into oblivion and taste real freedom.

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