Indian Elections and Falling Institutions

Colonel Shiv Choudhary (Retd)
The nation has just witnessed with total dismay the hyped election in a state where five days after announcement of results exhibited all aspects of India’s much touted democratic process. These round-the-clock suspenseful days, albeit, hours were packed with Indian electoral-cum-political melodrama which was filled with everything that held people’s interest. It had acting, gimmickry, jugglery, twists, emotions, occasional smile for one and tears for others, ‘forced’ hospitality, willing confinement, legal bouts, all pervading opportunism, advocacy, both stability and instability, changing media predictions, hopes  and disappointment, display of real time power, villains, winner and loser. The credibility of individuals, political parties and constitutional intuitions again came under public scan. It once again brought to the fore the extent to which our political class can go (denigrate) to grab power ideological incompatibility and earlier feuds notwithstanding.   On the flip side, it was a good recipe for every student of politics. But the sordid political affairs did raise disquieting questions about the efficacy of our existing electoral system and proud democracy.
The unfolded succession of sordid spectacles in the Karnataka assembly poll fractured mandate shows elections today are becoming more of an exercise in capturing state power than addressing concerns of citizens. It is time to ask if elections today are the legitimate exercise for our real democracy or people are reduced to mere pawns in the hands of powerful and moneyed political parties and individuals. Given the audacious manipulations and maneuvering every political party jumps into the fray to attain power and in the process shows the helplessness of our electoral process. May be modern political class in India believes that all is fair as long as one can finally win. Clearly, this cancer emerges out of lack of ethics, brazen violation of electoral norms, hunger for power, canards, money and muscle power, criminal intent and selective and partisan appointees in higher constitutional positions. In fact, political institutions and constitutional heads are being rightfully questioned for everything they do today.
Here was an election, where rather than accepting the people’s mandate, the ‘wiser’ congress from Goa, Manipur and Meghalaya model of managing numbers, outsmarted Amit Shah and offered CM post to its once enemy JD(S) and what Congress called it as BJP’s B team; and hurriedly stitched a coalition even before the final result was announced. Late to realize the loss of Karnataka, the BJP whipped out every possible tool in its armory to capture power including poaching of MLAs. The Congress and its new-found ally too did everything to keep their flock away from possible poaching by quarantining their flock from BJP’s poachers to maintain their numbers and ferry them from one place to another. Thus the Congress & JD(S) succeeded in their counter strategy. The SC, much maligned institution at the hands of Congress leaders, put the nail in BJP’s dream by ordering floor test on the very next day (Saturday) that spoiled the BJP’s celebrations. The bigger question is the limitations of elections in strengthening democracy and blunting political opportunism and corrupt practices.
Pressed for a role for which there was no script or support in Karnataka, Yeddyurappa(BSY) can be called an unlucky fallen hero for the BJP and its leadership. Seven seats became proverbially a long distance for BSY to power.   At the same time, no one should get fooled by BSY’s emotional drama to attain ‘martyrdom’ in the Assembly over self and his master’s follies. Many opposition political parties will haunt the Governor of Karnataka for misuse of his office. People within BJP will also be scratching their heads to know who authored the need for the floor test with uncertainty looming large. There will also be questions about who saved the embarrassment of certain defeat on the floor besides rumblings over attempts for buying MLAs. The repeated references made by BSY to Modi and Amit Shah in his speech too say a lot.
Sadly, it tells how easily and cheaply the existing electoral system can be manipulated without sparing a thought for the ideology, ethics and citizens. One wonders how such people can be trusted by anyone amidst deepening lack of popular trust in institutions and electoral democracy. It is a classic case where the party bosses have less confidence in their elected representatives than the votes. It also shows that we love democracy, but not the politicians.
While all such things are not new to India, the opposition has appreciated that politics is a zero sum game for the BJP and it needs to be stopped somewhere. Accordingly, a marriage of political convenience happened between Congress and JD(S) but the Congress on the hind sight must have realized the value of missed pre poll alliances to sweep the polls. On the contrary, the BJP deployed everything available in the state and centre, yet a tiny regional party did not succumb. BJP must be worried realizing that Congress and JD(S) MLAs did not defect despite the swearing in of YSY.
This post poll coalition is also politically very significant for the BJP and opposition at least for now. With barely 12 months to go for the big battle of 2019, BJP alluded of its allies, needs to carry out a reality check of it’s over enthusiasm to grab power like in Goa, Manipur and Meghalaya. Whatever, five days of avoidable squabbling of BJP has ensured the start of the opposition unity. Nothing very new or reassuring seeing the fragility of such bonhomie in the past, yet the JD(S) and Congress leadership ensured presence of top brass of opposition parties during the swearing in ceremony to demonstrate likely future coalition roadmap.
In house party differences within BJP and the contradictions inherited during the unfolding of events there should be a worrying factor for BJP especially for Amit Shah. The huff and anger on the face of BSY leaving after resignation without waiting for national anthem must be read wisely by one and all. Many muted voices will resurface too. The regional parties know that Modi addressed 31 meetings but failed to make a clear impact. Reasons;  one man show, centered control, dented anti-corruption image, poor delivery, over stage management, avoidable arrogance, fatigue of Shah and unfair loud applauding by the media. On the contrary, the opposition reinvented to the ground reality.
Total wins and not the percentage decide the final outcome. BJP made the government with 282 MPs in parliament election in 2014, not percentage. Siddaramaiah government was rejected by the people. His dozen sitting ministers and he himself lost from one of the two constituencies,he contested from. Modi is the biggest strength and weakness of BJP and Amit Shah only compliments it. The over-reliance on Modi is a double-edged sword with diminishing returns in the long run. Sometimes, a well-oiled political machine can appear intimidating to smaller parties, but same machine can become in-operative against a crest of bumps in future.
Most netas kept writing off the JD(S) as a pre- decimated force before two big political giants. We must know that in the era of super-malls, small counters can survive too through the loyal customers. Gowdas bargained with a weakened Congress in their attempt to be kings and not just kingmakers. Thus in a coalition era of fractured mandate, there are truly no permanent friends or enemies.
It is important to see the lessons from the Karnataka ruffling. What does this all mean in terms of future elections, broader political scenario and crumbling constitutional institutions? All these showings indicate that the opposition is finally getting its unity index up due to limited alternatives. Regional parties too have of late found that Modi and Shah are not invincible and that the big fight of 2019 cannot be as per the roadmap drawn by the BJP’s Chankiya. .
What is evident today is that politics is no more a game of principles. It is indeed a mad pursuit of power. Post-poll tie ups are in things today. The BJP did it brazenly in Goa, Manipur, and Meghalaya. Now the Congress and the JD(S)have stitched an alliance while the BJP looks to break parties. Sadly for the nation, the MLAs remain caged in the resorts due to trust deficiency and salability, the Raj Bhavan becomes the theatre for maneuvers’.100 years old Congress cannot keep their MLAs together and 50 years old BJP uses everything conceivable for political coronation.
There are no moral victories; instead there are only political victories which come by number of seats. Thus there is a need for all to respect to what is politically obtained there. Yes, BJP workers may wish to ask themselves a simple question: why did JD(S) choose to seal a post poll deal with Congress and not a pre poll deal with BJP. Here was a case when there was neither an honest winner, nor a dishonest loser. It was all questions of political squabbling, groping for numbers, outsmarting each other by hook or crook and snatching crown with no morality. Here was an event where a political class could obtain legal decision in the mid night, while cases involving political corruption, rapes, corporate scandals, bank frauds, collapsing bridges, infants death due to negligence, terrorists trials and non-accountability of executive keep going undecided for decades.
This election seems to be just a trailer for what we are likely to see in 2019. Political class needs to change first before they promise to change India. Indian were poor in 1947, India is poor in 2018. Indian should not hope to find a party with a difference. All are same prefixed or suffixed with what erstwhile leader of SP, Amar Singh once said; “tum karo to Ras Leela, hum karein toh character dheela”. This is a shame for India and democracy in India.


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