Dec 9, 2008

State elections 2008 - Indian democracy coming of age?

I have, several times in the past, been completely flummoxed by the voting patterns seen in various elections in this country. When the NDA Central government fell in 2004, my reaction bordered on disbelief. When BSP romped home in UP last time around, my indignant reaction was 'the electorate there deserves no better, if this is the choice they've made'. And there's the running joke called anti-incumbency. In states like Punjab and Tamil Nadu, people just keep throwing out failed governments every 5 years, replacing each with another proven disaster - never really considering any third option. I'd almost lost hope in the Indian voter - who neither seemed to value his right to vote, nor use it judicially. And the 'system' being weak was inevitable with such a rotten foundation.

But, the state assembly elections this year have been eye-openers. I've written in the recent past about the need to establish accountability at the grass-root levels, and voting for candidates and their performance records, rather than party symbols. I'd really hoped to see Sheila Dikshit win in Delhi, and Narendra Modi win in Gujarat because they'd both worked hard in their states, and achieved results far better than the norm. Both had some things in common - a focus on progress, and all-round development of the population that had entrusted them with responsibility. Both had made important policy decisions, and executed them well, even in the face of opposition. Both had, on multiple occasions, taken decisions that would be proven right in the long-term, rather than the populist and self-destructive decisions our leaders usually make to gain votes in the imminent elections. And both had stuck to their policies and decisions with conviction - something a leader worth his name simply must do. It was extremely heartening to see the majority of the electorate see things the same way - rewarding performance, and not being swayed by less-important factors that some parties were crying hoarse about.

For similar reasons, I had hoped NOT to see Vasundhara Raje win again. There is no place in a democracy for leaders with a royal hangover. I remember reading about her referring to herself and the public as 'raja' and 'praja' respectively, at a public meeting. This was some years back - I felt disgusted, and the memory never faded. I'd also hoped to see Deve Gowda and his clan being punished by the people of Karnataka, for reneging on their agreement with the BJP, and forcing the unnecessary cost and effort of an election on the state for no reason other than their shameless lust for power.

I don't know a lot about the state of affairs in MP and Chhatisgarh - but the indications are that people have sensibly voted for performance and exemplary leadership in those two states as well.

Perhaps I'm being too optimistic, too early. But I'd like to believe that these elections might be the bellwethers of change that is long overdue. A fundamental change in the electorate's mindset - whereby they begin voting for performance rather than slogans. Such a change would surely shake up our much-maligned politicos, and make them realize that they need to back their words with action and results, and can neither take the electorate for granted, nor use divisive messages about religion, caste, language etc. to distract the voters away from greater issues that affect them all.

To get a first-hand feel of what I'm talking about - just watch what ordinary citizens of Delhi explaining their voting decisions, on any news channel.

Today, we should all give ourselves a collective pat on the back, and resolve to keep up the good work!

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