The Magazine Covering All Aspects of The Indian World
Editorial Business Forum Political News Dispatches & Reports Letters Spotlight Lifestyle Spiritual Travel Health India Sport Scene
August - September 2004
National Elections 2004 - Smooth Changeover of Power
NATIONAL ELECTIONS 2004: SMOOTH CHANGEOVER OF POWER
BY SASHANKA SEKHAR BANERJEE
India showcases its passionate and boisterous love affair with mass democracy once every 5 years and only the determinedly blinkered or the most cynical of observers can fail to notice its colourful splendour and its appeal and impact on the systems of governance in large parts of the post-colonial world. Secular democracy, with all its flaws, has taken deep roots in India and the nation has every reason to be proud of it.
Reality Check with some Facts and Figures.
was also the first completely paperless general elections held in India
or for that matter anywhere in the world. Voters cast their ballot
in around 800,000 polling booths set up for the purpose into 1.75 million
Electronic Voting Machines or EVMs for short. There is a provision
for linking the EVMs to centralised computers called Master Counting
The total number of voters in any one booth does not exceed 1500. There were 12140 counting centres spread over 855 cities and towns across the country. When an EVM is activated for counting, the machine displays the number of candidates contesting and the votes polled by each candidate. The counting process takes no more than 10 minutes with each EVM but it is the inspection ceremonies by the respective election agents and officials that is most time-consuming . The advent of the EVMs has simplified and quickened the electoral process. Gone are the days of the ballot papers, some of them were as big as broad-sheet newspapers.
responsibility of holding the elections in India both for Parliament,
the State Assemblies and the Union Territories lies with the three-man
Election Commission ( EC ) headed by a Chief Election Commissioner.
They are all senior and experienced civil servants. The EC functions
from out of Nirvachan Sadan, translated from Hindi, it means The Election
Commission House in New Delhi . The EC is an autonomous body created
by the Constitution of India and is completely free from any political
influence or pressure from any vested interests whatsoever.
The population increase in the North - particularly in the Hindi speaking areas, also known as the Cow Belt, was far higher than in the South. Add to that, education as well as the general levels of development and economic progress achieved by the Southern States were much higher than in the Northern States. Therefore demands for an increase in the number of MPs that would have given the Northern States higher numerical representation in Parliament, were consistently opposed by the South .
Mindful of the North-South potential numerical asymmetry in representation in Parliament, the BJP-led NDA Government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee had argued in favour of the creation of smaller states claiming that this would quicken the pace of economic development. The Vajpayee Administration thus created Uttar Anchal out of Uttar Pradesh , Chattisgarh out of Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand out of Bihar. Cognisant of the experience of the last half a century that whichever among the major political parties wins the largest number of seats in Parliament in these 3 northern states, secures the right to rule at the Centre, the Indian National Congress did not hesitate in giving its approval to the erstwhile Vajpayee Administration's proposal of their redistribution into 6 states in the hope that the representation would increase in time and they would benefit from it.
Contrary to the rush to create smaller states in the Hindi belt , the Vajpayee Administration opposed the creation of a Telengana State out of Andhra Pradesh and a Vidarbha State out of Maharashtra, both lying outside the Cow Belt. The demand for the creation of these new states had the backing of mass popular opinion. BJP's perceived double-standards angered the people of Telengana and Vidarbha.
E-2004 came as a golden opportunity to the people of Telengana to severely
punish the NDA by voting against them almost en masse. The Congress,
as luck would have for them, had entered into a pre-poll arrangement
with the Telangana Rashtra Samity ( TRS ) led by K Chandrashekhar Rao
who was in the forefront demanding a separate State of Telengana and
won, with the Congress in alliance, a landslide majority in the Andhra
Pradesh Assembly elections wiping out Chandrababu Naidu's Telegu Desam
Party ( TDP ) and along with it sunk the BJP in the Parliamentary constituencies
. Naidu's enormous contribution to the economic development of Andhra
Pradesh went totally unrecognised. This was merely one of the many
examples which would explain the complexity of the E-2004 in India
and the mood swings of the Indian voters at local levels.
Minister Vajpayee's decision " to go to the country ",
The NDA led by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee lost the elections conceding defeat, in a smooth changeover of power, to its rival the United Progressive Alliance ( UPA ) led by Sonia Gandhi, President of the Indian National Congress . When the NDA lost the Elections of 2004, Atal Bihari Vajpayee was at the height of his popularity, having firmly placed India on the fast track of economic growth, the author of spectacular foreign policy successes, revered and respected widely by the people of India and the world leaders. He rode into the sunset, perhaps a thoroughly dejected man, before his time had run out.
Lost the People's Mandate, The Congress did not win it either.
It was a sad spectacle and it infuriated the nation. Not to be ignored was the NDA's failure to contain the onslaught of terrorist violence from across the borders which saw a daily diet of death of soldiers and civilians and destruction of property. India's over-cautious response to the terrorist attack by Islamic militants from across the borders on Indian Parliament on 13th December 2001 was a far cry from the tough US response to the 9/11 of 2001 terror attack on New York's twin towers and the Washington's Pentagon. The mighty Indian Army was mobilised along the western borders, which looked more like a show-biz than serious engagement, lasting one whole year which cost the tax payers billions of US dollars only to be ordered to return to the barracks without firing a shot.
Publicly the international community applauded India for showing maturity by not declaring war against nuclear-armed Pakistan, privately in the world's capitals India earned the reputation of being a " soft state ". If India was not ready for war why was the Army deployed so massively to battle readiness? Terrorist violence sponsored from across the borders continued unabated as more lives were lost. How can one forget the humiliation of the Kargil incursions of 1999 attributed to be the result of intelligence failure. Surprisingly, the ruling NDA alliance failed to factor-in the real possibility that the electorate would take into account the sordid litany of failures of the BJP, when the defining moment to make their political choices came up during E-2004.
The BJP is a party designed to serve the interests of the urban professional middle class, the traders, the wealth creators of the nation and the upper castes of Hindu society. Social justice and rural upliftment were almost absent from its political or economic agenda. It was rare to find a senior BJP leader contesting a seat in Parliament or the State Assemblies from any of the rural constituencies.
In stark contrast Sonia Gandhi , determinedly, focused almost exclusively on the rural heartland of India, and appealed to the backward classes and the religious minorities who have traditionally served as the Congress party's vote bank. The Congress had lost this vote bank for some time to the likes of Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajvadi Party of UP, Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party also of UP and Laloo Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal but Sonia Gandhi, the foreign-born leader who allegedly was not supposed to understand much of the complexity of Indian politics, wooed these sections of the society and secured substantial successes. Take the examples of Amethi, Rae Bareli, Phulpur, Siriperambudur , Chickmagalur - used over the years by the Nehru-Gandhi family - they are all rural or semi-rural constituencies. The family has always identified itself with the rural poor. This time round the BJP not only failed to get much support from rural India, it substantially lost the support of urban India as well.
Just a few days before the elections, Lal Krishan Advani, stood alongside Maulana Bukhari , the Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid in Delhi and secured a dubious Fatwa from him asking the Muslims of India to vote for the BJP. This was the last nail in the coffin of BJP's Hindu vote bank. Given this curious development, a negative perception was created among the Hindu voters that the charges of " Muslim appeasement " or " pseudo-secularism " levelled by the BJP against the Congress were politically motivated and deliberately concocted. The BJP was now seen as guilty of having committed the same sin, if that be the word for it, as the Congress of practising the alleged " appeasement of the Muslims ".The full article is available in the print edition.