People, press and the media anxiously await the outcome of the elections to the five state assemblies in the first week of March this year. Questions are being asked if the public outcry against corruption as displayed in the Anna Hazare led Lokpal movement will translate into votes in these elections.
There are valid reasons for such skepticism. One reason is the changing political loyalties at the time of elections. Deserters from one party join another, which promises to field them in elections. The public is witness to some astounding compromises in the process, such as the known corrupt ministers are admitted to the party that has been carrying out a campaign to expose his corrupt practices. Similarly, the hitherto faithful of the party are thrown out of the party for anti-party activities or corruption. Besides, money in huge quantity floods the constituency to bribe the voters. What was supposedly ideological bonding before the elections were announced, slowly converts to re-alignment of caste, community, religion, gender or region associations. In such a state of utter confusion, doubts regarding mass support to anti corruption getting translated into votes is but natural.
This does not mean that people have dissipated their anger against corruption or mal-governance or absence of governance. Far from it. They nurse their desire for a clean, transparent and good government. Their options are limited. Left to themselves, they would reject all candidates. In the process, they will also reject all appeals on caste, community, religion, gender or region basis. But the harshest reality of democracy is that the people have no such choice and there is absolutely no free will. The choice has to be exercised from among the contesting candidates only. That amounts to giving them the choice to choose the lesser evil. Hence all their restiveness gets temporarily subdued in the circumstances beyond their power!
When it comes to choosing the lesser evil, considerations like caste, community, religion, gender or region acquire the significance of decisive factors. It provides a comparatively better comfort zone for them to make their electoral choice. They have learnt from experience. They have found these narrow affiliations working better than ideological rigidities. Political rhetoric has been found by them to be unsatisfactory in practice. What the candidates promise them in election is forgotten once they are in government. When legitimate work of the public does not get done for reasons other than legitimate, the people are confronted with the ugly face of the government. When schools are not opened for children to get education, when hospitals are not provided for people to get medical relief, when drinking water or electricity is not made available and when crops dry up for want of canals not supplying water, people’s anger rises.
When the public finds the government non responsive to their legitimate demands, they resort to either bribing the functionaries or bringing pressure on them with the help of their caste, community, religion etc brothers and sisters. Failure to get justice from the government and success of getting it through caste and religious channels, strengthens their bonds and convinces them of the value of these bonding. Experience of several years and many elections makes them believe in the efficacy of these affiliations. That is the strongest reason for them not to accept any change. Even if their candidate is proven corrupt, they don’t pay any attention to these complaints. They are intelligent enough to compare similar candidates across all political parties and the strong support received by them. They discard all allegations of corruption or any wrongdoing , but stand by their candidate, who has always stood by them in times of need.
Here lies the reason for the cussedness observed by those covering the elections. It is not as if the people don’t understand the character or reputation of the candidate. It is also not that they are slow to change or not willing to change. On the contrary, they want change and they appreciate change and can join hands with others to force a change, but in the absence of any guarantee of a better government, they don’t want to take blind risks. They have sought change from the second General Election onwards. They have tried all political parties at different levels. It goes to the wisdom of these same people that they have been able to discern as to which political party should be voted to power at the centre, which one at the state level and which one at the municipal or panchayat level. So change is nothing unknown to the Indian voter. Nor are they really cussed. They are only sagacious.
The Indian voter has been most unsparing. He started punishing the non performers in the 1960s itself. Change of government at state level had begun by then. In 1967, governments were changed in nine states. It was a major political development, leading to a situation when the monolith character of the government of the same political party both at the centre and states was changed for the first time. It was the power of the vote and power of the voter. It was a result of the restiveness of the people. Unfortunately, the experiment failed to meet the public expectations. It was so, partly because of the lack of a single party providing the alternative as it was a combination of several parties, and party because of the political assault of the deposed party whose rule at the centre continued even after this new pattern of voting. From the public point of view, it was a clear indication as to who was qualified to be entrusted with the responsibility of the government at the centre and who at the states. The voter understood the importance of subjects like defence, finance or foreign affairs that required the attention of tried and trusted leadership. Voting the others at the assembly level was sort of trying the waters, to judge their competencies and capabilities. When the time was ripe, change even at the central level was ushered in. But the dissatisfaction of the public has grown by the day. Their unhappiness can be gauged by the support they lent to the India Against Corruption campaign led by Anna Hazare, demanding the setting up of a Lokpal or Ombudsman. Captains of industry and business were so desperate that they wrote open letters to the Prime Minister to end governance paralysis. A cabinet minister went to the extent of admitting openly that there existed a governance and ethics deficit. The Indian voter goes to cast his vote in 5 state assemblies next month in this background.
Expecting the restiveness of the voter to translate into votes is casting a superficial glance over a very complex situation. Even if it does not translate into vote, it does not mean that the public anger against corruption or government deficit has ended. Nor does it mean that the voter is cussed. The public knows it better when or how to exercise the power to change. At the moment, it sees no viable alternative.
However, it is bound to affect the electoral fortunes of the candidates and their parties. They will come for punishment for their acts of omission and commission. Because of the public anger against corruption, the candidates will avoid looking the voter in the eye! They will be most soliciting this time. A drastic change in their wear and bear will be perceptible. They will be afraid of trying tricks, deceit or cheating on the people. Once they have realized that the people have understood them fully and have found an alternative leadership in Anna and his followers, they will act extremely cautious and take no liberties with the people, their trust, rights or dignity.
This change forced on them by the Anna movement is no mean achievement. The movement has changed the course of electoral practices for ever. There shall be no going back. The reason behind it is that the new generation of youth has marched forward to take the baton and serve the people honestly. It is a generation which is not being dropped by helicopter to take on the role of the leader of his party even without any experience , solely on dynastic considerations. Most of them will be first generation leaders, belonging to the modern knowledge society. They have the power of knowledge behind them to provide satisfactory service. They are part of the global village. They will bring the change that the people want. That would be the time to translate public restiveness into votes. And it is so near!