Business As Usual

As it is the election season, a whole host of political players with different hues have taken the stage with contradicting ideas and rhetoric that tries to confuse the poor masses. While the political profession in general has been pretty dismal, some players are wonderful in their demagogy. All of them continually talk of development—or lack of it and communal danger. Come election time they spend millions on public relations to reverse their anti-people image and it works. They never explain why development means further marginalisation of the marginalised. Also, they never get tired to offer the moon to the voters before every poll, local or national, but after each election the moon appears to be a distant reality. It’s for the dream merchants to sing the swan song of the vanishing moon! Yet, this has been a time-tested way of electioneering for long in a land where a culvert-opening ceremony draws huge crowd and gets proper media attention.

Caste apart, minority factor is crucial for all electoral gamblers. Even if there is no communally charged atmosphere they can always create one, simply by manipulating some standard parameters that define communal-secular divide in an ‘emerging economy’ with backward culture.

With election campaign by major stake-holders—Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)—gaining momentum, shedding tears for the plight of minority community people is a common scenario, in official discourse as also in non-official exercises. ‘War on terror’ got a new twist when union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde on September 30, 2013, asked all state governments and union territory administrations, through a well-publicised official letter, to ensure that no muslim youth is wrongfully detained in the name of terror. Maybe, Mr Shinde is playing with the gallery. Maybe not. Whether the security establishment is listening to Mr Shinde’s sermons is altogether a different matter. After all they have their own agenda to cash in on ‘terror’. What about ‘wrongfully’, if not deliberately, detained tribal youth in Chattisgarh, Jharkhand and Jungle Mahal? There one may be accused and convicted without trial. For the accused the number of things to do wrong is logarithmically increased with every passing day. In fact, one doesn’t have to do anything wrong in the so-called disturbed areas. Even in the 21st century prisoners, both tribal youth and muslim youth, are virtually languishing in panopticon—an 18th century prison design where the cells are in a circle and the ‘‘watchers’’ in the centre. The design allows a watchman to observe all inmates of an establishment and they can’t tell whether they are watched or not. It doesn’t matter what Mr Shinde is saying—or not saying to gain electoral mileage. The ground reality remains horrifying.

The notoriety of Indian Security Forces defies description. True, they have been specifically targeting young people belonging to the minority community in Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere but how ‘insurgents’ are being systematically eliminated in the North East is no less bone-chilling. And in the vicious cycle of ‘insurgency’ and ‘counter-insurgency’, the way politicians are being bribed to be mute spectators is harrowing, after what the retired army chief V K Singh revealed the other day. Gen Singh now says that the army has been handing money to ministers in the state of J & K for long, perhaps since 1947, ostensibly to promote stability and buy peace. Money talks and it doesn’t talk against army atrocities. And they call it democracy!

This functioning democracy is now boasting of NOTA—‘None Of The Above’—option in adult franchise. They call it historic and much sought after electoral ‘reforms’. As per ruling of the three-judge bench of the Supreme Court on September 27, 2013, the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) used in elections must have a ‘None Of The Above’ (NOTA) button at the end. The all-important judgement was the result of a petition filed by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). But this is at best a toothless tiger as it has no biting power.
The Election Commission subsequently made it clear that the candidate securing the highest number of votes would be declared elected even if the number of electors opting for NOTA, surpassed the votes polled by the electoral contestants. NOTA is no right to recall. Nor is it a device to reject all. It’s an expression of dissatisfaction of a section of voters. In the end it will be an exercise in escapism. Political parties that opposed NOTA at the initial stage may now heave a sigh of relief after the Election Commission’s clarification. Unless electoral reforms guarantee right to reject all candidates or right to recall an errant candidate in an abnormal situation ‘None Of The Above’ system will soon lose its relevance. ‘‘Even if 90 voters in an electorate of 100 persons press the NOTA button the poll will be decided in favour of the candidate who gets the maximum of the remaining votes’’. Thus observed the former Chief Election Commission N Gapalaswami.

For all practical purposes, election in India today is literally big business. The idea of universal franchise has undergone radical changes over the years, making it a farce in some cases. Nobody knows how election fuels inflation but it does in a significant way. Voters, ordinary voters (aam admi) to be precise, who see in election an occasion to voice dissent, are already panic-stricken because of market riot. They are not really worried about communal riots secularists are talking about day in and day out as they know riots in the main are engineered by politicians to further their vested interests. But what matters most to wage earners is market that remains hot for all the time. The unprecedented rise in prices of all essential commodities across the country does not figure in any political discourse, not to speak of agitation, even on the left, as if it is as natural as anything else. The established left is defending the interests of the better off, privileged an organised sector employees whom they represent, while allowing the vast majority of the under-privileged to rot in the cesspool of poverty and drudgery.

Vol. 46, No. 18, Nov 10 - 16, 2013

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