File photo of Congress president Rahul Gandhi (L) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R). Photograph:( Zee News Network )
It must be acknowledged that voters do have issues other than development which bothers them
Like the year 2017, 2018 also ends with a round of important state elections. But unlike 2017 which the Bharatiya Janata Party rounded off with a hard-fought victory in Gujarat, 2018 has seen curtains down for the party in the key states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. That alone makes 2019 crucial, but what adds to the importance is the fact that that year will also witness a contest to determine which party or combination of parties rules the country.
It is, therefore, natural that electoral issues will be thrown up in the coming months. Although different topics will seek to occupy the primary narrative, every party will swear by the development agenda. While the BJP will present the development it has done in the past five years, others will dig up credit-worry material from the past when they were in power. The question is: Will the politics of development alone be the decisive factor? This is important because, if the answer is in the affirmative, then various other issues, many of them polarising and contentious, ought to be consigned to the dustbin. But the country’s recent political history does not point in that direction.
The Congress-led regime of PV Narasimha Rao presided over the most dramatic economic reforms the country has seen since Independence. It discarded decades of a socialist structure that had impeded growth and openness in the Indian economy. Its impact has been so profound that it is not just being felt today but will continue to be felt for many more years to come. Those bold measures were remarkable for another important reason: They were helmed by a leader who had himself spent a lifetime soaked in the Congress’s socialist credentials as far as economic policies were concerned. And they saved the country from certain bankruptcy. And yet, the Rao government lost power in 1996. The development agenda failed to click.
The fate of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee dispensation was no different. Prime Minister Vajpayee initiated arguably the biggest reform in decades in the infrastructure sector — national highways, rural roads, electricity, telecommunications. The India Shining campaign highlighted those undisputed achievements, but the BJP was ousted from power by the Congress which had only less than a decade ago played a role in the destabilisation of two non-Congress governments. Besides, it had also virtually trashed Rao’s development politics by relegating him to a non-entity in the Congress’s galaxy of tall leaders. People had not forgotten the shabby treatment it had given to Rao even after his death. But nothing mattered, and the Congress-led alliance formed the government in 2004.
Both Raman Singh in Chhattisgarh and Shivraj Singh Chouhan in Madhya Pradesh, in their long stints at the helm, had to a large extent succeeded in improving a lot of the people of their respective States through developmental politics. Madhya Pradesh is an especially interesting case because it had been considered part of the BIMARU (sick) conglomeration of states when Chouhan took charge. In more than a decade in office, his regime had managed to extricate it out of this pejorative terminology— which then comprised Bihar, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. But the people of the state voted his regime out recently.
Political parties understand this reality, which is why, although they talk of the politics of development, they are careful to cultivate other factors as well, sometimes at the cost of development. The constant use of identities — of religion, caste, regional pride — is one such weapon that these parties deploy. To be fair to them, they do so because they know that the voters also —despite being vocal on public platforms — about issues of development — are often swayed by parochial considerations.
This explains the budding romance between the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh. If the alliance between the two regional heavyweights happens, it can signal big trouble for the BJP in the state which sends 80 members to the Lok Sabha and which can well decide on who will form the next government at the Centre. It cannot be the politics of development which has brought the two entities this close, because both have a miserable track record on that front. What we can witness is the return of unabashed caste politics in Uttar Pradesh.
Similar is the story with other parties. The BJP has enough to talk about developmental politics — from empowering the common man to have bank accounts to enhancing road, rail and air connectivity to providing cooking gas connections to millions of needy families to implementing various new insurance schemes for the farming and the health sectors, and the Make in India, Digital India, Startup India projects etc. But even it realises that these may not be enough.
That said, it must be acknowledged that voters do have issues other than development which bothers them, and when such issues are ignored or belittled, the people let their annoyance known through the EVMs.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)