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April - May 2004
India's General Elections: A Mammoth Exercise In Futility Or The Dawn Of A New Era?
In the hour by hour ascending heat and dust of the Indo-Gangetic plains, the Indian masses are being asked to decide who should rule their country for the next five years. The stakes are high and using foul means has almost become a national characteristic. However, the will of the masses through ballot paper (now ballot electronic machines) does get reflected to a large extent in the new government at the Centre and in the States. That is why you get Sheila Dixit in Delhi, Uma Bharti in Madhya Pradesh and Scindhia win in Rajasthan. People get what they desire and not what they deserve.
Atal Bihari Vajpai, a statesman and a visionary with a vast experience of government and politics should, as a matter of course be the favourite to win the mandate of the people of India. However, he faces two great hurdles: firstly his advanced age and second his ill health. In the last four years of his government, he has managed to do done little to make India proud of his government. The Corruption is rampant; and bureaucracy still rules the roost. Corrupt businessmen joining hands with politicians and bureaucrats are thwarting the progress of the country at every level. It is sad to hear the comments of the common man in cities such as Delhi, Jaipur and Chandigarh, "BJP is no different from the Congress. They are fast learning the 'gur' (secret rules) of corruption."
Moreover, the second man in line for his job, Mr. Lal Kishan Advani, is neither much younger nor energetic enough despite his enthusiasm for Ben Hur-like chariots ride 'Rath Yatra' which will take him from Kanya Kumari to Amritsar passing through sixteen States of India. In his tenure as a Home Affairs Minister, terrorism, robberies and jailbreaks have reached new peaks. Corruption in police also has reached the highest cadre. Even Commissioners of police are drawn into it else they are dismissed for being too honest.
Well, some may say that there is still the Opposition or Opposition parties clamouring to come together over at the Centre as a choice. Also the people have a leader, a woman of foreign origin who claims to represent a great dynasty, which provided three Prime Ministers to the country. Alternatively, its choice can be the BSP leader Mayavati, leader of the Majority Society (Bahujan Samaj). Or the great Socialist leader (Samajvadi Party) Mulayam Yadav, or the Communist Comrade Surjeet Singh (even older than the present Prime Minister). And, not forgetting, the popular leader of the masses, Lalu Prasad Yadav of Rashtriya Janata Dal,(at present ruling, through his wife Rabri Devi) the great State of Bihar, the area once ruled by Ashoka, the Great!
Sadly, They all want to rule India from New Delhi. That is the reason why the present rulers in New Delhi will be able to return safely to their jobs in two months time. Strange though it may seem, the mammoth exercise in democratic process will change nothing and the tired old men having got the mandate of the people will again be ready to take rest for the next five years.
The New Dawn which India waits at the eve of every General Election never arrives. In the time of Jawahar Lal Nehru, Elections rallies were educational lectures in democracy. Today, they are show biz; an exercise in deception or flights of fancy, and mere escapism like most of the Indian films being churned out from Mumbai or Chennai.
Now take the case of the leader of the Congress party. A party with a very long history of dedicated service to India has fallen so low that its present day leaders need to rely on some person of glamour and a dynastic name to prop up the image of their party. The party is not interested in knowing whether the leader has the qualities of intellectual depth, genuine social conscience or delicate political antennae, the prerequisites of a really skillful leader. The leaders such as Mr. Natwar Singh, Mr.Manmohan Singh, Dr Karan Singh, Mr. Mukherji and Gulam Nabi Azad have vast experience of government and politics, but cannot rid themselves of the complex which resists them from claiming the leadership themselves.
It goes to the credit of Mr Advani that, speaking at a political rally in Haryana, he exhorted the audience to vote for Congress and its allies if they do not want to vote for BJP and its allies. He, like many of us, wants a strong Opposition which looks after the national interest. Mr. Chauthala, the present chief minister of Haryana, like the proverbial frog in a well, is not bothered about the national interest. There are many more regional leaders who are in this category. Unless they change their political priorities, India does not stand a chance to be in step with the 21st century.
Atal Bihari Vajpai, ensured of victory by default, should reflect on the last four years of his rule and constructively think of strategies for improving the future of Indians first and his place along with his party will be secure in history automatically. The slogan that 21st century belongs to India has been so often repeated by Mr. LK Advani and other BJP leaders, indirectly proclaiming that as they are the harbingers of such good tidings, they can proudly take credit for this great honour, if ever it is going to happen. At this stage, it is China which, with some justification, can claim to this hyperbolical distinction.
As a member of National Democratic Alliance, the BJP leadership sacrificed a lot of its party manifesto in the last parliament. It is time that the leadership of the BJP in its election manifesto reiterate those very policies which it dared not touch for fear of breaking the alliance. First and foremost, the Uniform Civil Code for the country must be established without excluding any State on any ground. Secondly, Article 370 and similar articles, which give special negative privileges to Jammu & Kashmir and other States, must be abolished.
Positive financial discrimination in favour of a backward or mountainous State is understandable and must be adhered to. However, Article 370 which applies to Jammu & Kashmir (and which was a purely temporary measure taken by Jawahar Lal Nehru) has had negative repercussions on the progress of the State. The economy became stagnant. The Kashmiris got more and more alienated from the mainstream of India. Even after 55 years of joining Indian Union, the status of Jammu & Kashmir as an inseparable part of the country is questioned in international gatherings. The last BJP government has failed utterly in solving the problems of the people of Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab, Haryana and Delhi.
India needs a far bolder and braver team of men and women than the present incumbents in New Delhi. Congress party, at present, is in a state of coma. Nevertheless, it has young and enthusiastic second line of leadership, which can infuse new life in the party and bring it back to the Old Glory. At present, the Bhartiya Janata Party has the young cadre who can supply such a team of young and enthusiastic leaders who would be able to bring the New Dawn. Graceful retirement by a few at the top will bring enormous dividends to the party and the country.