There’s always a strong sense of deja vu in run-up to the polls

The month ahead is not likely to bring us much relief from the screaming headlines and ‘breaking news’ interruptions dominated by election-related trivia.

Published: 19th January 2017 10:48 PM  |   Last Updated: 21st January 2017 08:30 AM   |  A+A-

Navjot Singh Sidhu (right) with Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi

The month ahead is not likely to bring us much relief from the screaming headlines and ‘breaking news’ interruptions dominated by election-related trivia.

Navjot Singh Sidhu has finally joined the Congress after having granted a face-saving audience by the party V-P, Rahul Gandhi, and it is anybody’s guess how long this marriage of convenience will last.

The cricketer-turned-comedian has wasted much precious time deciding which team to play for and it’s more likely that the laughs he is guaranteed to deliver would far outnumber the votes he garners. Our hearts go out to the Captain who earned his title wearing a uniform and has served also on other battlefields. The High Command he is subordinated to today has no clue about strategy and tactics.

It expects the foot soldiers ‘Not to question why, but to do and die!’ It is difficult to imagine how he is going to cope with this unguided missile in his arsenal and conduct an effective campaign. Before joining the Congress and declaring it to be a ghar wapsi, Sidhu had a sizzling affair with the AAP and everyone knows that he had a turbulent love-hate relationship with the BJP.

There was a time when his claims about saving the youth in Punjab from drug menace sounded credible. Constant bargaining and dithering has severely eroded the goodwill he once could boast of. The photo-op with RaGa may be good for his bruised ego, but can’t be the ‘tipping point’ in the electoral battle in the state.

Talking of photographs, a spate of posters pasted on the walls across Uttar Pradesh show Daughter-in-Law of the State smiling by the side of Daughter of the Nation. Dimple Yadav and Priyanka Vadra, we are told, are going to run a duet campaign that will floor the BJP. The question that is distressing many citizens is: can only an unabashedly dynastic alliance bring poor UP from the brink?

The spectre of communal polarisation is rising again. Loud mouths and totally irresponsible leaders in the BJP parivar—such as Sakshi Maharaj—have time and again indulged in virulent hate speeches and fuelled apprehensions. Unwittingly, they have played into the hands of and rejuvenated the ‘secular’ opposition.

The family feud in the Samajwadi Party has played out and by all accounts Akhilesh Yadav has emerged more or less unscathed. Father, uncle and father’s friend stand in a corner where they have painted themselves in. Truth be told, the ‘cycle’ symbol is not as valuable for any faction as it is made out to be.

Brand Akhilesh has the face of the young, unblemished CM—at last unshackled, in popular mind, from fetters that crippled him. Compared to Behen Mayawati and as yet unnamed BJP contender for the CM’s chair, he appears much better placed in the race than others.

What is disturbing is that all the speculative analyses seem focused on fortunes of individuals or at best on the performance of political parties. No one has the time to flag problems that plague the lives of people either in Punjab or UP. Psephologists view these elections as a political barometer, indicative of signs of things to come in 2019. But what about life till then? It’s more than two years to go.

Winners and losers both would get busy for the crucial battle right after the results are announced in March, and the elected representatives of people who have little time for governance, management of economy and law and order are bound to suffer. It is amazing how soon we have forgotten the unruly and frequently adjourned winter session of Parliament. The acrimonious exchanges broadcast on national television have shaken the faith of people in institutions of democracy. ‘Debate’ and ‘dissent’ are words that have lost their meaning.

The courts, custodians of citizens’ fundamental right, burdened with backlog of hundreds of thousands of pending cases, try to provide some succour but cannot usurp the legislative functions of Parliament and Assemblies, or routinely dictate to the executive what it should do. Few are aware that the constitutional scheme separating powers in India is under severe stress at present. Federal arrangement is in need of urgent repair.

The Election Commission and the courts cast a larger than life shadow at times when elections are about to be held. Those who are used to rule—by dynastic birthright and/or money-cum-muscle power—know very well that these are creatures without teeth and claw. That’s why the Model Code of Conduct is flouted with impunity.

There is always a strong sense of deja vu in the run-up to the elections. Manifestos are given short shrift, ideology doesn’t matter a bit, it’s the ‘winnability’ of the candidates that reigns supreme in every mind. Unfortunately, we are swayed much too easily by ‘charisma’—real or manufactured by media. This is why Sidhu and Priyanka, or for that matter RaGa, will continue to be ‘news’ potboilers long after their cliché cameo appearances and frequent unexplained disappearances.  

Pushpesh Pant

Former professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University

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