If the people are not convinced, what better way than to dump large amounts of information on them that they find hard to process? Just the size of the data on what the government is going to do, with excessive but not so relevant detail, is expected to impress the voters. Otherwise, of course, there is a parallel national campaign that has over-simplified the electoral pitch to a few oft repeated words and catch-phrases. Will this approach succeed in satisfying the voter?
Even before the mega-contest to take place for the Lok Sabha, Uttarakhand is all set for the three-tier panchayat elections. The mood of the urban voter became quite evident during the municipal polls and now it is the turn of those in the rural areas. Owing to the variability of factors, many parties choose not to contest panchayat polls on organisational basis, claiming instead to endorse individuals. This makes it easier, later, to claim the winning candidates as their own. Ruling parties prefer this option because, for obvious reasons, winners are happy to climb onto a gravy train already in motion. It becomes difficult, however, if the winners are declared candidates of other parties. So, if the major opposition, the BJP, manages to do well in the panchayat elections, there is just so much the Congress can do to conceal the fact.
The sudden blitz of advertising on what the government intends to do needs to be seen in this context – as also the facts that have not been mentioned. In the normal course, it would have been easy to make claims on what has been done. It is possible to say a road was repaired or widened without actually having done so, but if the road has ceased to exist altogether in a disaster, no claims can be made till such time it comes back into existence. When there is widespread damage of this kind, as happened during the June 2013 disaster, the claimed achievements have to be packaged more imaginatively.
What the voter would like is the setting up of a dynamic website that contains each and every announcement made by the government in various sectors and is updated regularly on the progress. The website should contain the amount of money allocated for the work, the name of the implementing agency and contractor, the designated date of completion, the specifications of the job, and the actual day of completion. It would, then, become possible for the citizen to check the progress on projects of interest to him or her. If these happen to be close by, the reality on the ground can also be confirmed. Obviously, then, there should be a complaints and comments option also. It would be good not just for ordinary people, but also the powers that be, which would get regular feedback on their projects from independent observers.
This doesn’t seem likely as the culture of openness and accountability has not yet taken over in the political world. There is scope, therefore, for an open source website run on the basis of contributions by ordinary people on what is happening in their immediate environment, complete with photographs, even video interviews with engineers and contractors on the site. If intelligently prepared, the very data base already provided by government in six page advertisements in the newspapers could be integrated with what is actually taking place. This would allow for more informed decision making by voters at election time.
A government that actually does its job should be most interested in establishing such a forum, because it would lead to direct involvement of citizens in the development process, but also reflect the good work done. There would then be no need for last minute panic and change of guard to turn the tide on a losing battle.