Election season has come somewhat early in Uttarakhand. The recent upheaval in the ruling BJP’s ranks has given hope to the Congress, which has launched a drive to project its vision for the state at a time when it hopes the people are paying attention. The new CM, on his part, is working overtime to establish control, undo his predecessor’s unpopular decisions, and bring about change while claiming continuity in party policies. He is trying already to focus the coming contest on the Modi persona, rather than on local leadership. This is exactly what former CM Harish Rawat had predicted – a contest between a BJP Chief Minister and a Congress nominee for the top job could have proven a close thing.
Parties, of course, play the game according to past experience. However, past experience in Indian elections also shows that the electorate almost always throws up some unexpected results. It is a contest to see who remains ahead. It is the job of the media, in particular, to bring to the fore real grassroots issues rather than just the emotive ones, so that voters can decide on more substantive terms who they wish to hand over the mantle of leadership.
Since India’s is a parliamentary system of democracy, the growing tendency to make it a presidential style election needs to be discouraged. For years the Congress won by projecting Nehru and, even more so, Indira Gandhi, as the face of its politics. Now, it is the turn of Narendra Modi. Many times, however, the performance of the actual person people vote for – the local MLA or MP – comes in the way of these grand plans. The fact is that a constituency can benefit more from having a capable representative even if he or she belongs to the opposition, than from an incompetent one belonging to the ruling party. This is very much the case in Uttarakhand, where committed voters tend to send representatives to the state assembly that put up a very poor show. It is important, therefore, for community groups to provide information on their functioning in an impartial way so that people can make the right choices. Being careless in making the choice condemns a constituency to five long years of bad governance. Hard working legislators, similarly, should be rewarded even if they do not belong to the party likely to win. Only this approach will ensure that the state legislature functions effectively and the right policies are forged and implemented.