By Shashi Shekhar
Elections in India are now are fought on the basis of corporate propaganda, not real issues
Now that the results of the acrimonious elections for the Karnataka assembly are just a night away, public intellectuals hurt by the vitiated political discourse must be relieved. They might be praying for the next legislature to act more responsibly. People’s representatives who cannot respect the sanctity of the elections should at least keep their promises to the electorate. But is it likely to happen?
Before getting into the question that I’ve posed, I would like to draw your attention to the profile and character of the candidates. According to the Association for Democratic Reforms, 94% of the 220 candidates that the Congress fielded were crorepatis and 27% face criminal cases. Similarly, 93% of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) 224 candidates were crorepatis and 37% charged with criminal cases. For the Janata Dal (Secular), 77% of its 199 candidate were crorepatis and 21% had cases registered against them. One of the candidates has declared movable and immovable assets of Rs1,000 crore.
This is the scenario when the number of crorepatis in the fray has reduced since 2013. In that year, 681 out of 1,052 candidates (65%) were crorepatis. The marginal fall in the number of affluent candidates shouldn’t mislead you into believing that this is the beginning of fair ticket distribution to ordinary people. Unfortunately, across the nation our politics has been usurped by moneybags. These individuals have started mixing business with politics. As a result, instead of political discussions on real issues, elections are fought on the basis of corporate propaganda. Before this, some disturbing facts had come to light during the elections in the North-east, particularly in Nagaland.
Is this why the quality of our politicians and politics is deteriorating? I am not saying we should assume that a candidate is guilty just because a case has been registered and prevent him from contesting elections. I am not suggesting that crorepatis don’t have the right to contest elections. But I take strong objection to the manner in which issues that affect the lives of ordinary people are fast disappearing from the political discourse.
Another thing that bothers me: the incomes of people associated with politics and political parties grow substantially between one election and another even as the financial conditions of ordinary citizens keep dwindling. Those days are long gone when sobriety was seen as the ornament of leaders in Indian politics. I have personally witnessed a number of legislators and members of Parliament (MPs) walk for miles together. They might not have spent a night in Dalit homes, but the economically deprived still perceived them as their saviours. Whenever I see people’s representatives surrounded by bodyguards, a question comes to my mind: When will they get time to meet the people who’ve elected them?
This is an era where money power scores over people power. In these times, who wants to pay attention to the premature murder of issues that concern ordinary people?
Let us look at Karnataka. After Rajasthan, this state is believed to be the worst affected by drought in the country. A recent BBC study put Bengaluru among 11 metropolises that are facing a severe drinking water crisis. What will our politicians do to prevent Bengaluru, known as the city of lakes, from turning into another Cape Town? A constructive debate on this issue wasn’t heard during the entire election campaign. Not just the state capital, the state is battling an enormous water crisis.
Owing to this, 3,515 farmers committed suicide between April 2013 and November 2017. Of these, 2,525 can be attributed to drought and crop failure. Ideally, before seeking votes, our politicians should have presented a comprehensive action plan to the people. What happened was nowhere close to this.
Karnataka is a state where the mountains, ocean, greenery and drought coexist at the same time. The mismatch in natural resources across the diverse regions of the state has already made governing the state quite complex. On top of this, with Bengaluru becoming an IT hub, this metropolis needs round-the-clock supply of electricity. The state’s rural areas end up paying a price for this. They face power cuts lasting six to eight hours. A combination of heat, lack of rains and shortage of electricity has made people’s lives miserable. Instead of finding a solution to this, our politicians turned the election campaign into a clash of personalities, religious appeasement and caste tensions. They realize that the despondent Indian always seeks refuge in religion. In the blind race to draw cults and religious leaders into their fold, we’ve seen the democratic tradition being ripped apart.
India’s politicians, kindly pay attention: Democracy is always of the people, by the people and for the people. The Karnataka assembly elections have emphasized the need to remember this.
Shashi Shekhar is editor in chief, Hindustan.