Mar 14, 2009

Yes We Can!

It is a cliché that every election in India offers a hope of change. Change has often meant the incumbent government being thrown out and a chance to punish individuals or parties that took the voters for granted. This kind of 'change' is not new in India, but there hasn't been much 'change' in the real sense after any of these elections. So will the 2009 general elections be different and usher in a new generation of politicians? Will they qualitatively redefine Indian politics for the world? We would be naive to actually believe that any one election can change our rotten-to-the-core political paraphernalia - one that survives by deceiving its people through clever media management and yet thrives on a lucrative patronage. However, some silver linings do hold our hope.

We saw some common and interesting trends emerging in the recently-concluded assembly elections of six states. The most significant of these is an exceptionally high voter turnout - in areas that extended from the unsteady western borders in Rajasthan to the volatile eastern extremities in Mizoram, from the treacherous Jammu & Kashmir to deep within Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, and in the heart of the nation's capital. This high voter turnout indicates a growing awareness of and interest in elections, believed to be especially profound amongst the urban middle-class youth and particularly first-time voters.

Another striking trend is that this high voter turnout has not necessarily stemmed from anger with the incumbent government, as has been conventional political logic. Delhi stood as a stark exception to this thumb-rule with a triumphant return of the ruling party. This means that the voter does appreciate and reward good governance and is no longer apathetic to it. Whether this interpretation is right or wrong, it may actually create a vested interest among politicians to try and do their job better than before, if only to stay in power.

The real challenge, however, lies in building on these positive trends. If our political parties were to react to these perceived signals and take necessary steps, we may actually witness political progress. One sure-shot way to do this would be to put up young and educated candidates to represent parties. Omar Abdullah seems to be a definite breath of fresh air in the otherwise claustrophobic J&K environment. Another would be to focus on issues that the newly enthused voters will see as relevant and legitimate, such as gender and environmental sensitivity. Parties and their representatives can also showcase attributes that appeal to the young, such as a modern outlook and cosmopolitanism. Parties should be eager to attract these new voters.

Another lesson we learnt the hard way is that sectarian politics over non-issues does not always work. For instance, the 26/11 terror attack was expected to cost the Congress its secure position across states, having been seen as incompetent to deal with terror. The opposition left no stone unturned in playing its cards to that effect. But the voters shunned the expected knee-jerk reaction and instead voted with their minds, choosing the option they thought was better in their state - even if it meant repeating Congress. Delhi again stands as testimony to this. Parties would do well to read this as a new maturity among voters and move away from identity politics to figure out the right poll promises that can actually be implemented. What's more, since all parties would want to hold out promises that the others have not held on to, there could be a real possibility for innovation in schemes that matter to us at the grassroots.

There are other reasons why the 2009 polls could be more issue-dominated than any general election since 1999. There is a growing realization among parties that the Lok Sabha polls are no longer one big national election, but are more like simultaneous elections in all states and union territories. Therefore no grand central idea such as the delusional India Shining seems sufficient in capturing the imagination of people across the country.

This time, more than ever, issues and parties are likely to matter much more than personalities. Of course, all of this is assuming that between now and when the elections are held, nothing happens that dramatically alters the rules of the game - such as unrest with Pakistan or communal disharmony. That is one change we can do without.


  1. ''There are other reasons why the 2009 polls could be more issue-dominated than any general election since 1998. There is a growing realization among parties that the Lok Sabha polls are no longer one big national election, but are more like simultaneous elections in all states and union territories. Therefore no grand central idea such as the delusional India Shining seems sufficient in capturing the imagination of people across the country.''

    I hope so too Surbhi..coz thats the only way to vote for who can do the work rather than petty issues..and sectarian politics..
    amy 2009 be the year of change...I really pray and hope..and hope to make my contribution too...

    yet another very relevant post Surbhi

  2. Awesome Analysis Surbhi, You're dead right - High voter turnout to reward the existing government was definitely an indication of voter awareness.

    Trust, the awareness will be shown by voting for a party that can provide stability. Not an ideology less third front.

    I guess, Modi understands this and ever since the controversy in Gujarat, he's tried everything to avoid those issues and focused on development. I only wish, the entire BJP would understand this - they can provide a good alternative but as of now, I think they're wasting themselves in religious politics.

    Congress on the other hand, inspite of not being actually democratic, is showing signs of maturity with more youngsters being brought into the front - The second generations of the Scindias, Pilots, Jindals and a number of others are almost ready to involve themselves in real development rather than petty issues.

    Pray, just pray, the political parties understand what you're explaining above - pure and simple, no Jargon.

  3. Indyeah:
    I know, that India Shining was the stupidest thing our government then had come out with. And it came at the worst possible time too. I was amazed at the voter turnout, esp in J&K where people braved risk to their lives (by the cold and by separatists) and elected the best man possible - Omar Abdullah. He is young and dynamic and someone J&K had really needed in these turbulent times. As for Sheila Dixit, she made sick right-wing-like comments on Soumya, but she also helped DMRC with the Metro - that is one thing we Delhiites will always be indebted to her for.

  4. Rakesh:
    Thanks a ton!
    Modi will rise in my eyes when he at least accepts responsibility for what happened in Godhra. That apart, nobody can deny the kind of development he has brought to Gujarat and the enterprising spirit he has held on to. In fact, he was brave enough to get illegal temples demolished, something no saffronite can even imagine doing.
    Congress may not be democratic and may play the divisive card, but I'd still want them coz they're at least not fundamentalists or religious bigots like the BJP. The BJP and their allies (RSS, VHP, Sri Ram Sena and the like) just scare the living daylights out of me. Imagine if they came to power and had a free reign over us! Shudder!
    Voters today are realising that it is the youth, and not experience of age, that'll truly take us forward. You are right - the new generation of Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi, Sachin Pilot, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Milind Deora, Omar Abdullah are the leaders of today and tomorrow. Not Rahul Mahajan, though!

  5. Brilliantly analysed Surbhi!
    If the rest of India follows Omar Abdullah and Sheila Dikshit kind of results we have no reason not to hope that we can.
    I also feel watching Obama win helped us see the power our votes had, and it was a timely call for the urban voters (who were watching these elections)and then add Jago Re Campaign to that... Yes, we do have reason to hope.

  6. Rahul Mahajan? Lol! What a waste, but it's good that he was revealed in Bigg Boss or else, you know how sentimental voters are. They would've voted for him just because his father was killed.

    And see, this is the difference between the BJP and the Congress!

    Pray, Modi accepts that he was responsible to save his citizens and he failed in that responsibility. This is the least he can do, and once he does that, I think, there's a good enough chance that he'll run for PM

  7. IHM:
    Sure, "Jaago Re" apart from boosting the will to vote has made the masses aware of how critical elections are to them, and how much their vote counts. Ditto for "Lead India 2009", which is a sincere initiative towards good governance in the country.
    I only hope these campaigns work and that people use only their brains and nothing else to vote for the most rightfully deserving.

  8. Rakesh:
    You are right, it is easy for unscrupulous politicians to sway the masses through insincere sympathy campaigns and divisive ploys. I just hope the educated lot comes all out to vote honestly and rightfully to make a difference.

  9. Omar Abdullah was found visting or to be precise raiding the different departments under his government, where on the spot he fined some people and rewarded the worthy lot as well. Kudos!!!
    But when you see people around you begging for the votes giving "duhai" of your rligion and caste, who wants to vote?? Not me at least. It is just electing the least notorious goon :(
    But there is always a way to be good again, so lets pray and work for INDIA

  10. Tarun:
    You are so right. Our next-gen politicos are the ones who we need, and we needed them yesterday.
    When a friend asked me why I'd vote for X party and not Y party, both of which are evil, I said it was like choosing the lesser evil between the two.
    I too feel like not voting. In fact, I never voted in the 2004 elections (which were my first since I turned 18). But this time, more than ever, the importance of elections is being felt all over the nation. Esp. with the extremel turbulent times we live in today, it becomes (at least in my opinion) our moral responsibility to vote for who we think is the right person to represent us. That person may or may not actually represent us eventually, but that shouldn't be an excuse to not vote. So I hope you'll go out and cast your vote - since each vote counts.
    All the best!

  11. Tarun:
    I take that to mean you'll go to the poling booth and vote! Hurray! :)

  12. Hii !!

    There is an award waiting for you !! :)

  13. RK:
    Thanks so much. Thats my first award! :)
    I'm so honoured!

  14. Tell u wot..sau baat ki ek baat...Politics is only good for one thing..Making money on the side. Period.

    Ill visit umore.

    Anand. :-)

  15. Yeah anyways, I am done with my job, going back to my place, lets see......
    But what to do, as I don't know any of the candidtes :(

  16. Anand:
    Thanks for visiting. We'll see you here more often. :)
    You know, I thought like that too, still do at times, but I take it as a moral responsibility to at least vote for the better candidate amongst the hopeless pool we have. We all crib about the state of the nation and the incompetent government, but if we don't like the government, voting is the least we can do. Even if our choice does not come to power, that shouldn't be an excuse to not exercise this fundamental right and exclusive privilege. Who knows, our vote could be that one vote which could make a difference for our party of choice. After all, each vote does matter!

  17. Tarun:
    This may help some.
    Also this.
    Best, do a Google on your local candidates.
    Happy voting!


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