Print edition : November 05, 2004

"Aaya Ram, Gaya Ram. Pani to milta hi nahin. Kya fayda vote dene se." (Politicians come and go. Elections don't solve our water problem. Why should we vote?) Cynicism and distress mark this comment from a farmer in Marathwada and raises the inevitable question about whether issues really matter during elections.

Matters of concern in Maharashtra are wide ranging and there are no dearth of life-and-death topics - unemployment in all sectors, continuing drought in 11 districts despite a reasonably good monsoon, the neglect of irrigation and the absence of water management, suicides of farmers and agricultural labourers, more than 1,000 malnutrition-related deaths over the last year, the crisis in the power sector, the dying cooperative sector, the practically non-existent Monopoly Cotton Procurement Scheme, the watering down of the Employment Guarantee Scheme and the Public Distribution System, the matter of tribal people's rights, increasing number of closures of small-scale units, urban poverty, housing and related real estate issues in Mumbai, secularism and religious freedom.

Instead of getting shorter, the list of problems only grows with every election. This leads to the question whether there is any political desire to resolve the State's problems. In its five years in power, the Democratic Front government led by the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) did little to resolve these issues. In fact, it turned a blind eye to the calamitous water situation and the declining fortunes of the cooperative sector.

If, despite these failings, the Congress-NCP alliance has returned to power, it is perhaps because politics is disassociated from issues that are of concern to the voters. The manner in which the political parties have treated these issues in their manifestos only reinforces the view that they are not a priority for them. The Congress-NCP victory, more than being a vote of confidence in their government, can be attributed to a combination of two factors: negative ballots cast by voters, who see the Congress-NCP as a lesser evil than the Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena combine, and the political calculations of Sharad Pawar, an acknowledged master in this game.

In such a situation it is unfortunate, but inevitable, that burning issues that dominate people's lives take a back seat. Now, the Congress-NCP have one more chance to prove the sceptics wrong. Will they seize it is the question.

Here, a Frontline team, after a visit to the major regions of the State, brings out the real concerns of the people.

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