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Whither Elections?

As the curtains came down to one of the most bitterly fought elections in the Southern Indian State of Karnataka, there appears to be no clear winner with various exit polls predicting a cliffhanger battle between the ruling Congress and BJP in the State. The campaign trail in the run to the polling date was marked by personal attacks, historical misinterpretation of facts, and top of it all, a bizarre caste-centric politics by all the parties in the fray. As it turned out, the real issues concerning the public were whisked away under the carpet. Star campaigners of all the parties starting from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Congress president Rahul Gandhi indulged in a freewheeling ride of attacking each other on issues which hardly concerned the general public. The narrative of the campaign to win Karnataka was so low that it finally culminated to a tu tu main main contest.

You did nothing in four years. You did nothing in 70. You tell lies. You tell lies. You make personal attacks. No, you make personal attacks. You are corrupt. No, it’s you who are corrupt. Still crowds gathered in tens of thousands in the rallies which also reflect the choice-less options Indian voters have in the present political scenario in the country. It has become a rule rather than an exception that issues close to the heart of voters – roti, kapdaa, makaan – no longer dominate the poll campaign of any political party anywhere in the country. The party manifesto never attracts media scrutiny which used to be the case earlier. And no one even in the media takes a stock of what the ruling party has done in the last five years of all its promises when it came to power.

Elections these days are decided in television studios with representatives of political parties screaming on each other and an anchor trying to balance the scale by giving chance to each of them to shout at each other. In the process real issues concerning the public never come to the election platform for a debate. Simply put, it is a you-versus-me battle. The current election narrative in India is what Congress has not done in 70 years versus the four years of BJP rule. Sometimes it feels like it is a fight between lndia’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Iron Man Sardar Vallabbhai Patel as their names are mentioned so many times in the speeches of political leaders in the campaign trail.

If the Karnataka polls are a precursor to the general elections of 2019, then we can very well expect what our political leaders will dish out ahead. The fact that most discussions of the Karnataka elections centre around caste divisions should shame our political class. It should also a shame that with such limited knowledge of basic history, they conjured up insults to Generals that did not happen earlier, and insults to heroes like Bhagat Singh that never happened either. If Karnataka elections are a rehearsal to the 2019 general elections, then we can say that Indian voters had it.  It appears that there is no serious ideological difference left between India’s two chief parties, with the Congress repositioning itself as a liberal Hindutva party.  It had a trial run in Karnataka. If it works in Karnataka, it could be adopted at the Centre too. But the sad part is that instead of taking the country in a new direction, all major parties have strayed in all directions and are returning to the path that has kept the country mired in desperate poverty while countries once behind us have raced ahead of us.

About the author

Ankur Kalita