One can say with a degree of certainty that corruption was not really the main issue in this round of Assembly elections in five States.
HAVING witnessed democracy in action in the form of Assembly elections in the five States, it is worthwhile looking at what these elections have exposed. Political analysts have already made pronouncements about identity politics, that is, the politics of caste and community, being pushed to the side by new demands for development. They have pronounced on the virtues of being with the people in the manner of Akhilesh Yadav, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, as opposed to the parachute politics of Rahul Gandhi.
Corruption has been mentioned, but in terms that are not very clear, at least to lay people like myself. Has this exercise in democracy proved that there is widespread anger at the corruption that exists in almost all parts of society, in public bodies and authorities as well as in private entities? From what one can comprehend, the answer is the familiar yes-and-no that analysts take shelter behind when faced with a phenomenon they cannot really understand.
The verdict cannot be against corruption in, for example, Punjab, where the reputation of the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party combine is not of its being a group of saints, to put it mildly. For the record, the perception about the party that lost, the Congress, is no better. In Uttar Pradesh, no one will take you seriously if you claim that the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) is pure as driven snow; that the losing Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) was seen as utterly corrupt, which is why it lost; and that the Congress was also seen as corrupt and the protector of corrupt allies at the Centre. The fact is that all of them are seen as corrupt.
Without making any solemn pronouncements on why a party won or lost, or the role played by rebel candidates of all parties in splitting vote banks, one can say with a degree of certainty that a rejection of corruption was not really the main issue in these elections. And that is the truly worrying factor in this round of exercise of democracy.
Equally worrying is the sense one gets that the major political parties know this and are not really bothered. They also know, from the look of things, that the public protestation of Anna Hazare and his followers will never ever amount to anything as far as political power in our system is concerned. The parties strategise their moves and countermoves on the basis of other considerations, which they think to be more effective and relevant.
An article that appeared not so long ago in The Economist cited a study by a group of scholars in the London School of Economics, which said that the comparisons made by various writers and experts between China and India as emerging economic superpowers were erroneous; that India could never hope to be a rival to the economic powerhouse that China already is. One reason given for this is the all-pervasive corruption in India; the others relate, in the main, to aspects of Indian democracy the weakened Central government unable to act decisively on matters of importance to the development of the country and the instability and policy incoherence caused by multiparty coalition governments . The one exception to this is, of course, Gujarat, but there is a dark side to that State that makes it a bad example to cite, notwithstanding the fondness big business has for it.
This trend of thinking will in all likelihood catch on, despite brave words from leaders of different countries; one can sense it in the way the Indian stock market has behaved; in the way the rupee has got weaker by the day; and in the general gloom among bankers, which they will not admit to publicly but will talk about mainly among themselves. It is not gloom about the immediate future it is about India in the long term. It is, finally, about the nature of Indian democracy.Fatal flaws
There are those who increasingly see signs of fatal flaws in Indian democracy because of the way it has developed. A gaggle of political parties, from regional parties to so-called national parties, form weak, unstable governments that depend on corruption from the top down to survive, and survival is all that matters for political parties. An even more dangerous trend was pointed out in a recent article in The Hindu by Gopalan Balagopal on the failure to prevent rampant malnutrition and stunting among the very young in this country, in this present century, when even Bangladesh has gone ahead of India in reducing stunting and malnutrition among children. As nutrition experts will tell anyone who wants to know, there are two periods in a child's growth when the need for high amounts of nutrition is crucial to its development, mental as well as physical one is roughly when the child is between seven and nine years old and the other a little later, just as it steps into teenage.
India's failure to provide nutrition even of a basic kind means that eventually our young men and women will lack the intellectual capabilities and physical health of the youth of other countries, leading to a falling off of quality of work, of skill levels and so on, with its inevitable ill effects on the economy as a whole. But are our politicians, engaged in the task of survival, interested or concerned?
Eventually, one has to conclude that Indian-style democracy and the ills afflicting our economy, our industry, our infrastructure, our health services and our education system will ensure that India does not become an economic superpower, emerging or otherwise, and that it will have to depend on aid to keep itself going, as industrial houses begin to invest in other, more lucrative countries.
Now, a lot depends on what young leaders such as Akhilesh Yadav and others such as Chief Ministers Nitish Kumar of Bihar and Naveen Patnaik of Orissa do. There is little to be gained by looking at any other leader; those who are indeed leaders are either erratic and whimsical, or interested only in lining their pockets. Some like Jayalalithaa may well take Tamil Nadu towards development, but she has to provide proof of that, as Nitish Kumar has done so admirably.