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The Warfare of Electoral Road Shows

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By DS Aswal

The candidates are battling it out at the hustings for the 17th Lok Sabha, supposedly the spring of the prosperity of ‘we, the people’. This Spring has to be replenished intermittently after every five years, if not evacuated (dissolved before time). In the largest democracy of the world (being the most procreative people and not by virtue of any great heroic exploit, unless of course we emerge as a vibrant, worth emulating, democracy globally), holding elections is a daunting task. Thanks to our, and the great, electoral machinery, comprising the otherwise much maligned bureaucracy, and the increasing realisation among the people that booth capturing and bogus voting does not help, we can take legitimate pride that India is no less a gold plated democracy given our, hitherto, free, fair and periodic elections, the sine qua non of a democracy. Elections are the life blood of a democracy as it is through independent and secret voting that the electors amputate the obnoxious branches, restore the vigour, and replenish our faith in democracy. Yet, from the view point of the State as well as the political parties, the entire electoral process has become intolerably odious and cost prohibitive.
Political parties, particularly the national parties with overflowing coffers, instead of focussing on vital issues of governance concerning the life and well being of the suffering masses, the unemployed, the weak and the vulnerable, the distressed farming sector, the perpetually drought affected areas, have very deftly deflected the attention of the media to non-issues or ghost issues. Election Manifestoes are crafted with great care offering some allurements to every voter yet these are hardly discussed and debated. The conventional political constructs and formulations have been cleverly subsumed under the Rubric of nationalism confined to narrow sectarian identities undermining the very foundation of our democratic pluralism enshrined in the Constitution. The vital national electoral issues of the 16th Lok Sabha, though unmitigated and in many respect, have grown more glaringly pronounced and reached gargantuan dimensions especially unemployment and the deep distress which has engulfed the agrarian and the Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises, considered the wheel of our economy. But they are a thing of the past, and arguably, the public memory being short if eclipsed or obliterated or overshadowed by seemingly more powerful overarching cacophonous national concerns. In the construct of perceived paramount danger to national security and the unity and integrity of the nation and the discourse of ‘the nationalists vs the anti nationalists’ (where a mere disagreement of opinions is viewed being anti national), which unemployed would have the temerity to raise personal consideration of job for we have been taught, and rightly so, the nation comes first. The shrill conventional electoral promises of creating jobs, inclusive growth, gender justice, regional and social harmony, health and education have been supplanted by myopic nationalism and ‘me, the saviour of the nation vs the rest’. This is what, the English poet TS Eliot said, ‘last year’s words belong to the last year’s language. And next year’s words await another voice’.
Further, the very conduct of the election campaign is being orchestrated not by real issues but by tasked mammoth public gatherings and the ‘Road Shows’. The very term, Road Show, though not very new or noble in the English lexicon, yet, certainly it has become a secret mantra, a lethal strategy of electoral dominance. Bigger the Road Show, presumably bigger the chances of victory and the electoral margin. Road Show has been perfected into a tool of electoral dominance and the ‘gathered-gathering’ is projected as charismatic mass appeal of the leader while signalling that the puny political rivals stand nowhere in the electoral battle. Road Shows are not prohibited as such but like the ostentatious weddings of the filthy rich, extravagant Road Shows, paralysing civil life and debate, so critical for the health and vigour of a democracy, are nothing but gross abuse of power and a sham in the name of the festival of democracy.
Some of the leading and mature democracies of the world like the United Kingdom, the United States of America, France, Australia, Japan or Canada, which are older than Indian democracy, and where elections are no less keenly contested, there are no such Road Shows paralysing the wheels of democracy. Instead, the focus in these countries is on issues which are openly discussed and debated in the, and by an, independent Media and not through preordained and pre scripted interviews by non journalists. All attempts to polarise the people in violation of the Model Code of Conduct or the constitutional guarantees must be viewed sternly by the people and more so by the competing political parties so that the entire electoral process is conducted in a free and fair manner without stoking the atavistic passions of the voters. There is no other way out to redeem the pledge of the founding fathers to preserve, protect and strengthen the fabric of our secular democratic republic and to uphold the Sovereignty and integrity of India but maintain the purity of electoral process. No generation of leaders can be allowed to harbour the remotest thought that he or she alone is the saviour of of our democracy. Our democracy is not a banana republic as the common man is wise enough to discern and see beyond the facade of Road Shows and choose the government capable enough to redress their problems and to harbinger inclusive growth and prosperity.

(DS Aswal describes himself as a free thinker and a scholar of the constitution and comparative politics. Views expressed are personal.)