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Fear prompting hasty choices

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  17 Jan 2016 12:00 AM GMT

One of the significant features of our democracy is that it is so far from being participatory in character that people even tend to vote out of fear of having to vote again in case there is a hung Assembly or Parliament. As a result, they often end up voting for a party that they know will not be able to provide competent governce. In other words, the very dread of having to face another election close on the heels of the one they had voted at is greater than the fear of even being stuck for five years or more with an incompetent government. The fear of having to face elections is not entirely an unjustified fear, because elections have a way of disrupting normal life in several small ways and of stoking violence where it may be least expected. Even so, such a distorted view of things makes a mockery of any electoral reforms that the tion could have in mind. After all, our first–past–the–post mode of elections is not an ideal form of democratic choice in any case. It makes the winner of the highest number of votes the elected representative of the people even if he/she might have won with a small number of votes (in a situation where there were many contestants) and an even smaller percentage of the vote share. There is a much better system of election followed by many democracies of Europe involving two rounds of voting. The first round elimites all other candidates barring the two who had polled the largest number of votes. The next round is a direct contest between just the two top candidates. And many countries have the stipulation that the winner of the two candidates in the fil round of elections must poll 40 or 45 per cent of the votes cast in order to qualify to be the elected representative or lawmaker of that particular constituency. But in the kind of first–past–the–post elections that we have in India, there are no means of ensuring that elections will send the true representative of each constituency to Parliament or any of our legislative assemblies. It is this dread of having to vote again in yet another election close on the heels of one already concluded that puts people in fear of even the choice ‘none of the above’ (NOTA). Actually, this is a welcome addition to the choices that voters have. But the number of voters who have exercised this option is abysmally small because of the common fear of citizens of having to go through another election. The direct consequence of such irratiol fears is that the electorate makes the unfortute choice of putting in power a political party that is incompetent. And when an incompetent political party gets to rule not just for five years but for 15 at a stretch, we begin to see what such an incompetent political party can do to the polity and development of a State.

With the next Assembly elections around the corner, we are beginning to see what an incompetent ruling party can do to rake in the votes with all kinds of false propaganda. On the 13th and 14th of January 2016, the ruling Congress of Assam demonstrated what an incompetent government is obliged to do in order to try to get back to power for a fourth term. Blatant propaganda with scant regard for the truth has become the order of the day. On January 13, a local English daily carried three full–colour half–page advertisements about the achievements of the Assam government during the “last 14 years”. Strangely enough, two of the advertisements were about the empowerment of women during 14 years. One of them spoke of fincial assistance of Rs 10,000 to spinsters and widows above the age of 45 years. It also spoke of 1 lakh self–help groups of women to be fincially benefited by the end of this year. The other one spoke of 52,37,213 beneficiaries having been covered under various social schemes. It also spoke of 22,50,000 weavers having been provided with free yarn and 11,30,448 weavers having been covered under the health insurance. That accounts for 33,80,448 weavers. With textile mills making weaving an unviable exercise in terms of the time spent, does our State still have over 3.38 million weavers? There is every reason to doubt this bit of statistics.

On January 14, a local English daily carried another half–page advertisement of the State government’s achievements in the field of agriculture by saying what the State administration had done in the last 14 years to strengthen the rural economy by supporting farmers. Apparently, from the fiscal year 2001–02 to 2014–15, the State government had distributed 9,644 tractors and 42,809 power tillers among farmers and 1,552 rotary tillers among women farmers. The advertisement also claims that between 2001 and 2015, 5,519 crore Kisan Credit Cards had been provided to farmers and an amount of Rs 29.78 lakh credit had been sanctioned. We would like to know how 5,519 crore Kisan Credit Cards can be distributed in just one State when the 5,519 crore is about 44 times the total population of India! And where could the Assam government find the printer to print 5,419 crore cards? And even at Rs 5 per card, the expenditure involved on 5,519 crore cards is Rs 27,595 crore. Where did the Assam government find that kind of money? The same advertisement also tells us that Assam had received the ‘Krishi Karman’ award for the fourth consecutive year from the Central government for record production of rice and pulses. This announcement turally gives rise to two questions: (1) With such a high level of rice production, why is the State government uble to compel the Food Corporation of India (FCI) to buy rice from our farmers at the going prices for rice? (2) If the State has had a record production of pulses for four years, why has the Assam government not been able to control the abnormal rise in the prices of pulses in the State?

What the Assam government must appreciate is that flawed statistics do not constitute development and that all the people cannot be fooled all the time with advertisements that often stray from the truth. The first requirement about real development is that it must be inclusive. It is not enough for the fruits of development to reach just some people who are members or supporters of the ruling party. One can talk about real development only when it relates to all and not just some selected people close to ruling party. Nor does it matter how many tractors and power tillers have been distributed among the people. If they are not put to effective use, they represent nothing more than distribution of largesse that yields the benefits of commissions to the givers and the benefits of windfalls to those who received the tractors or power tillers and were able to sell them off to others. After all, how many of the 9,644 tractors and 42,809 power tillers do we get to see being put to good use on our fields?

Apart from all development having to be inclusive, all real development must ensure good free education up to the secondary level (not in the one–teacher, one–room type of schools that abound in our villages), good health care, attractive employment opportunities in industries, agriculture or the service sector for everyone, and above all, the assurance that the opportunities or social benefits announced for all will not be denied to anyone just because the expected bribe has not been paid. In fact, this denial is the most direct and visible way in which corruption stands in the way of development and progress. Unfortutely, what we have had by way of so–called development in the 15 years of trust is exclusive development catering to a few whose votes could be counted on, but denied to the vast majority. So far, development has eluded most people because it has been the exclusive preserve of those who are politically allied to the ruling party. It has been determined by party affiliation and considerations of electoral gains. Next to corruption, this rejection of people not connected to the political party as beneficiaries of development—this exclusiveness that is also form of corruption—is the next most powerful enemy of real development. So the ruling Congress that has had 15 years in which to bring about real development but has confined itself to the development of its own blue–eyed boys, can go on singing about the development that it has brought about to the State. Very few people beyond its own party men and associates are likely to be taken in by the kind of flawed statistics that it keeps putting out just to win one more term in office.

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