Why turn state poll into a pres­i­den­tial face off?

The Asian Age - - Edit - Man­ish Te­wari Su­jit De Kolkata

On De­cem­ber 11, 2018, the In­dian elec­torate will de­liver its ver­dict in five states — Ch­hat­tis­garh, Mad­hya Pradesh, Ra­jasthan, Te­lan­gana and Mi­zo­ram. Like in 2003, 2008 and 2013 there would be fevered spec­u­la­tion as to what would be the im­pact of these re­sults on the 2019 Lok Sabha elec­tion.

If you go by past prece­dents it’s been a mixed bag. In 2003, the BJP won Ra­jasthan, Ch­hat­tis­garh and Mad­hya Pradesh. Those days Delhi also used to go to polls in this round of As­sem­bly polls it­self. The Congress re­tained Delhi for the sec­ond time. It had won it for the first time in 1998 from the BJP that had formed the first gov­ern­ment in 2003 af­ter Delhi got its first ever As­sem­bly in Novem­ber 1993.

Tak­ing the As­sem­bly re­sults as an affirmation of its gov­er­nance at the Cen­tral level too, the NDA/ BJP al­most hus­tled a very re­luc­tant Atal Be­hari Va­j­payee into call­ing for an early gen­eral elec­tion by pro­pon­ing it by a good six months. The pro­po­nents of call­ing for an early elec­tion be­lieved that In­dia was shin­ing while it was ac­tu­ally wounded and sim­mer­ing. As it turned out in May 2004 Prime Minister Va­j­payee had to make way for his suc­ces­sor Dr Man­mo­han Singh.

Again in 2008 the elec­tions to Ch­hat­tis­garh were over but Mad­hya Pradesh voted on Novem­ber 27, Delhi on Novem­ber 29, Mi­zo­ram on De­cem­ber 2, Ra­jasthan on De­cem­ber 4, and Jammu & Kash­mir, that has a six- year As­sem­bly cy­cle be­tween Novem­ber 17 and De­cem­ber 24 with five out of the seven phases vot­ing be­tween Novem­ber 30 and De­cem­ber 24, 2008. Why these dates are ger­mane is be­cause the worst ter­ror at­tacks on In­dia un­folded be­tween Novem­ber 26 and Novem­ber 29, 2008 in Mum­bai. 166 peo­ple were bru­tally butchered and many more wounded. The at­tack was tele­cast live into ev­ery home and hearth. It was per­haps the worst se­cu­rity mo­ment for In­dia in its re­cent his­tory. The then UPA gov­ern­ment was nat­u­rally on the back foot. An even more than usu­ally bel­liger­ent BJP sensed an open­ing and went for the jugu­lar.

How­ever, when the re­sults of the As­sem­bly elec­tions were de­clared it was a mixed bag. The Congress re­tained Delhi and Mi­zo­ram, and wrested Ra­jasthan from the BJP. The Na­tional Con­fer­ence and the Congress formed an al­liance gov­ern­ment in J& K. The BJP held onto both, Mad­hya Pradesh and Ch­hat­tis­garh. It was a mixed bag. How­ever, the real sur­prise came in 2009 when the Congress ac­tu­ally in­creased its tally from 145 seats to 206 in the Lok Sabha elec­tions.

In 2013 the As­sem­bly re­sults pro­duced a dif­fer­ent dy­namic al­to­gether. In Delhi, a new party, the Aam Aadmi Party ( AAP), formed a gov­ern­ment with the out­side sup­port of the In­dian Na­tional Congress. The BJP re­tained Mad­hya Pradesh and Ch­hat­tis­garh and wrested Ra­jasthan from the Congress. The Congress was able to hold onto only Mi­zo­ram. The BJP fol­lowed it by form­ing its first ma­jor­ity gov­ern­ment at the Cen­tre al­beit on the nar­row­est elec­toral base pos­si­ble for a ma­jor­ity gov­ern­ment since 1952.

The rea­son that I have cho­sen to re­late this his­tory go­ing back 15 years in time is pri­mar­ily be­cause it is quite ev­i­dent from this gran­diose political sweep that As­sem­bly elec­tions do not seem to have a bear­ing on the even­tual out­come of a Lok Sabha elec­tion. How­ever, what makes these As­sem­bly elec­tions dif­fer­ent is that Prime Minister Naren­dra Modi in the past 54 months has made ev­ery elec­tion con­test — lo­cal or state — about him­self. Since the Gu­jarat As­sem­bly elec­tions last year he has in­creas­ingly turned to the pol­i­tics of vic­tim­hood — try­ing to paint him­self as the un­der­dog to ob­fus­cate his non- per­for­mance.

Why then is there an at­tempt to turn ev­ery state elec­tion into a na­tional con­test with al­legedly pro­found im­pli­ca­tions on the fu­ture and the des­tiny of the coun­try? A part of the prob­lem is the way our tele­vi­sion me­dia is struc­tured. The print me­dia still con­tin­ues to be quite lo­cal in its foot­print not­with­stand­ing a few print pub­li­ca­tions that have a na­tional pres­ence. It is the broad­cast me­dia that has a unique res­i­dency. There are over 400 cable and satel­lite news chan­nels in In­dia and each of them whether they cu­rate re­gional con­tent or dish out more pan na­tional in­fo­tain­ment up

What makes these As­sem­bly elec­tions dif­fer­ent is that Prime Minister Naren­dra Modi in the past 54 months has made ev­ery elec­tion con­test — lo­cal or state — about him­self the foot­print of each of them has a struc­tured na­tional or even a pan In­dian reach.

For over the past 25 years now there are two par­al­lel dis­courses that seem to be play­ing out in ev­ery elec­tion. A dis­course that is in the ether and for com­mer­cial and other im­per­a­tives is very heav­ily in­vested in con­vert­ing ev­ery lo­cal, state or na­tional elec­tion into a pres­i­den­tial face off rather than re­spect­ing the fun­da­men­tal ba­sis of the West­min­ster style of democ­racy.

The other is the dis­course on the ground that largely is un­seen and even un­heard in the ether for that is the in­ter­ac­tion peo­ple still have on the com­mon area of the vil­lage where they gather af­ter a hard day’s work. It is the con­ver­sa­tions that play out on the lo­cal What­sApp groups mainly fo­cus­ing on lo­cal con­cerns. It is also the dissection of lo­cal news­pa­pers by groups of peo­ple at teashops and paan shops. De­spite the pro­lif­er­a­tion of the so­cial me­dia this is a re­al­ity that has still not changed and still plays the most im­por­tant role in elec­toral choices that peo­ple make.

Will this change any time soon? The an­swer is no. The high priests of the me­dia in the United States were unan­i­mous that sec­re­tary Hil­lary Clin­ton’s vic­tory was a fore­gone con­clu­sion. Her tran­si­tion teams were scour­ing the world, try­ing to un­der­stand what tweak­ing of the world or­der is re­quired. How­ever, they were dis­con­nected from the ground game not plugged into ei­ther the nar­ra­tive in the field that Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump very acutely was. The re­sult of that is in front of us.

The writer is a lawyer and a for­mer Union minister. The views ex­pressed are per­sonal. Twit­ter han­dle @ man­ishte­wari The farm­ers have been de­mand­ing for im­ple­men­ta­tion of the rec­om­men­da­tions of the Swaminathan Com­mis­sion for a long time. One of the most im­por­tant rec­om­men­da­tions of the Com­mis­sion is land re­forms that can in­deed heal the wounds of agrar­ian cri­sis. Land re­forms make China such a strong coun­try in spite of its huge pop­u­la­tion and size. In­dia needs land re­forms to en­hance the pro­duc­tiv­ity of the land by im­prov­ing the eco­nomic con­di­tions of farm­ers and ten­ants and also to ensure dis­tribu­tive jus­tice. THE RE­SULTS of the exit polls in five states must bring cheer to the Congress. While the party ap­pears all set to wrest Ra­jasthan, it could also gain in Mad­hya Pradesh and Ch­hat­tis­garh. How­ever, a photo fin­ish has been pre­dicted in MP, Ch­hat­tis­garh and Mi­zo­ram and this could lead to a Goa- like sit­u­a­tion trig­ger­ing horse- trading. In Te­lan­gana, the rul­ing TRS was pro­jected to be ahead of the Con­gressled grand al­liance. If these fore­casts hold true, the Congress could see a change of for­tune in 2019.

N. J. Ravi Chan­der

Ben­galuru

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