As the high decibel electioneering is drawing to a close, the nation discovers to its dismay and shame that the quality of election-eve public debate has plummeted to an all-time low. This unholy din has successfully obliterated many fundamental national issues. It seems to be our tragic fate to repeatedly look towards an election with hopes of solutions and to be thwarted by misplaced or misconceived ‘national issues’ that an election underscores. It is an empirical fact that the disconnect between the collective desire of the nation and the priorities as perceived by political parties during the electoral battle and pursued subsequently by the elected governments is widening with every successive election.
The current high-intensity election campaign that has monopolised our media for nearly two months will stand out in our history as one that has conveniently obliterated almost all the core issues of the nation. True, growing agrarian distress and rampant unemployment did find its place but only to be addressed with short-term solutions. Issues that call for long-term solutions and bold structural changes have been conveniently and cleverly brushed under the carpet by all parties in their pursuit of power. The underlying disturbing logic is very simple. Even if elected to power, no major party is prepared or equipped to address deep-rooted social and economic issues, potent with disastrous consequences.
This is an attempt to identify five major areas this election campaign conveniently forgot to address. (Admittedly there are many more.)
1. Climate change and environment: Confronted with the unmistakable truth of climate change, the whole world is bracing itself up with mitigating measures and eco-sensitive policies. When the time is up to dedicate ourselves to a new eco-sensitivity and a nuanced development ethos, we seem to have fallen foolishly in love with a discarded development model that has taken humanity to the brink of ecocide. No national leader acknowledged the reality of climate change. Instead, we continue to promise more ‘development’ which shall guarantee our hurtle towards ecological disaster.
2. Corruption: Though allegations of corruption were levelled by national and regional leaders at each other with considerable creativity and effective histrionics, the net result has been the dilution of the moral pungency of corruption in nation’s collective conscience. Unfortunately, no leader appeared to be convincingly impatient with the pervasive cloud of corruption. We witnessed no committed attack on the thousand-headed monster of corruption nor heard any meaningful and well thought out strategy to create a corruption-free India.
3. Governance: Every successive government has been high on promises and low on delivery. And the fault line of administrative inefficiency has been thwarting scheme after schemes for several decades. Yet the make-believe machinery of the governments covers the lifeless bodies of half accomplished schemes with the shiny apparel of flamboyant post-truth claims. Hardly any leader spoke in this election campaign about the inadequacy of governance. Poor governance continues to manifest itself all around in bureaucratic apathy and political indifference, reinforced by archaic rules and procedures and even more archaic mindset. If no party vows to change this where does an ordinary citizen look for administrative justice?
4. Affordable Healthcare: Insurance-linked healthcare seems to have been accepted as the only available model. It might have its set of positive aspects. Yet that is no reason for the state to withdraw from universal healthcare and affordable treatment to the economically and socially marginalised. In a country where literacy is still a mirage for a sizeable population, insurance-driven health care is nothing but a barren cloud. When the real need for treatment arises the cloud would have disappeared. In an increasingly commercialising health sector, the only real insurance is a vibrant public health infrastructure.
5. Education: Another area that the campaign overlooked is the abysmal record of our education. School enrolment has shown some signs of change but the quality and coverage still remain incomplete. It is a patchwork picture of small successes dominated by huge failures. Teacher absenteeism, poor quality of classroom transaction and the problem of drop-out continue to plague our school education. University education scene is no better. The gap between public institutions of higher education and privately funded universities and institutions has been widening as the marks on the surface of an enlarging balloon. This unequal system has already created a new hierarchy among the educated people.
Evidently, these are not vote-catching issues. That itself betrays a poor idea of the electorate as conceived by the political class. It presumes that the voter too is not interested in such core issues but concerned only about short term issues and immediate gains. Therefore the rhetoric gets centered on issues which will have an immediate ‘effect’ and electoral dividend. Deeper issues demanding serious structural changes are always postponed and later ignored as they have apparently no immediate nudging effect on the voter. Problems that cannot be addressed with simplistic solutions are thus ignored and a malady ignored can only worsen. So like the mythical bird, we the people wait. Wait for the next rains to quench the thirst.
(The author is the former Chief Secretary to the Government of Kerala and former Vice Chancellor of Malayalam University. Email: email@example.com)