Battle Between Acronyms, Cutouts and their Missing Manifestos - The New Indian Express

Battle Between Acronyms, Cutouts and their Missing Manifestos

Published: 23rd March 2014 06:00 AM

Last Updated: 23rd March 2014 01:35 AM

The lexicon defines ‘insolent’ as “insultingly contemptuous in speech or conduct”. India’s political parties could well be accused of being contemptuous of voters and even held guilty of spectacular insolence towards their voters.

In less than 15 days, the first votes will be cast in E-2014. In a paved democracy, this would be peak debating season—on issues, on solutions, about a plan for a great society. Not in India. India’s two national parties—the BJP and Congress—are yet to release that sacred promissory note encompassing policy and aims called ‘Manifesto’.

Candidates have been nominated—386 by the Congress, 387 by the BJP and 317 by AAP. Campaigning is in full swing. Between them, NaMo and RaGa have addressed over 100 rallies/meetings. Arvind Kejriwal of AAP too has criss-crossed the country seeking votes. Leaders and apparatchiks have been busy—on air and online—busting myths, reputations and records. But the parties have no time for the essential.

India’s political class is riveted to the razzle dazzle of rhetoric, not reason. Arguably—in this battle of acronyms and epithets, of cut-outs and caricatures where insinuations are jostling with innuendos—the voter is well informed on what the parties are against. But politics cannot be just about what candidates or parties are railing against. Politics, by definition, must be about what parties stand for.

Neither the Congress nor the BJP deem it urgent, necessary or reasonable to articulate their solutions for the future. Neither has AAP—the party preaching politics with a difference. The ideologues of AAP have often argued the need for deeper engagement through referendums. Isn’t a primary manifesto necessary for that? The BJP has justifiably blamed the Congress for a lot of ills

India is facing, but it has yet to articulate how it plans to be different. And the Congress clearly owes explanations and a blueprint for the repair on the wounds inflicted on the economy.

Ironically, all three parties sought inputs from members of the public. The Congress website invites voters with the slogan “Voice Your Ideas for the Congress Party’s 2014 Lok Sabha Election Manifesto”. If spin doctors are to be believed, there was tremendous enthusiasm and participation. Beggars the question: Where is the chorus and where is the output? The BJP too engineered its site to accept suggestions from voters. The party believes “a manifesto is a public declaration of intent. For the BJP, intent is also commitment”. So what does one make of the fact that intent and commitment are both delayed inordinately?

This is an inflexion point in India’s democracy. India must debate and the debate will have to be necessarily about both tactical issues and strategic issues, about the immediate and about the long-term simultaneously. The economy has been waylaid by profligacy. Ten years ago, the winning political slogan was inclusive growth. A decade later, it has resulted in inclusive inflation. Parties must articulate their solutions with at least some specifics and a rough road map. India needs to end the permission raj, dismantle big government at Delhi and re-direct flow of funds and function to the states. How this can be done needs debate and articulation.

Politics in India is hostage to the political entrepreneurship of derivative traders who want to dictate national policies from their voting terminals. This has led to a parade of alibis. The first one: it’s a coalition. The second: there is popular public resistance— mostly politically motivated—against infrastructure projects or mining. The third is a desperate: we don’t have the numbers. The arithmetic of politics calls for alignment of goals. In Tamil Nadu, the MDMK has declared in its manifesto that it will work for closure of the Kudankulam nuclear power plant, oppose methane gas exploration in Thanjavur and lift the ban on LTTE. Such ambitions are both a cause for confusion and for worry. Ergo the imperative for wider and deeper discourse.

Of course, there are those who will argue that manifestos don’t matter, that voters don’t care and that it is not voted on. This may be so in part, but it is utterly cynical to perpetuate it. It is also diabolical. Elections cannot be just about persuasive sloganeering.  Democracy is a contest of ideas and the exertion of free will. Absence of debate on issues that matter—and on manifestos—robs the voters of the privilege of choice.

The debate about India’s future is trapped in a political ghetto of competing crises and conflicting political compulsions. India deserves to be liberated from the crisis to crisis model of politics and governance. Indians and India’s voters deserve articulation of intent and commitment from those who aspire to power. India’s political parties are obliged to enable the environment for debate,  for voters to make an informed choice.

Shankkar Aiyar is the author of  Accidental India: A History of the Nation’s Passage through Crisis and Change

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