Governance

The Test of Democracy

The scheduled state assembly elections in five states-Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Mizoram and Rajasthan, have caught the eyes of everybody, since general elections are round the corner in 2014. It is interesting to note that in terms of geo-political and social reality, all five of them are starkly dissimilar in terms of local issues, voting pattern and campaigning strategy.

Starting with the national capital, Delhi with an assembly of 70 seats, and population of 1.18 crores will witness a triangular tussle among Congress, BJP and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). While Congress and BJP (Bhartiya Janata Party) have engaged in cliché kind of politics before voting, the AAP focuses local issues and the menace of corruption, and has taken both the Congress and BJP to task. The socio-political issues in Delhi are urban and related to infrastructural development.

In Madhya Pradesh, a 230 seats assembly, the Congress is wholly relying on election strategy of Union Minister Jyotiraditya Scindhia and loyal local support. Whereas the current BJP chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan, known for working silently has styled himself as ‘mamaji’ (maternal uncle) of everybody in the state. The whole focus of BJP is on the achievements and popularity of Chauhan in the state.

Chhasttisgarh, a 90 seats assembly, carved from Madhya Pradesh, has a different story to tell. Victim of Maoist violence and terror, conducting elections in Chhasttisgarh has become the test of democracy. The ratio of security personnel to voters is 1:21, whereas the total voting population in the 18 constituencies is 29,33,200. Nearly 600 companies of additional forces have been deployed and over 150 helicopter sorties have been arranged to drop and pick up polling parties in helicopters.[1]

The Maoist terror in the state has co-incided with the decline of Congress and CPI(Communist Party of India) and rise of BJP in the urban areas. But Ajit Jogi’s comeback in Congress just before elections is a cause of concern for BJP. Out of 140 candidates, 10% of whom have criminal records are contesting in Chhattisgarh. A good sign is that 67% of polling was recorded in 8 naxal affected districts in the first phase of elections.

While in Rajasthan, a 200 seats assembly, dissent among the party members in the parties and caste based politics dominate the election scene. The formation of Loktantrik Morcha by Samajwadi Party, CPI, CPI (Marxist), Janata Dal (Secular) and Janata Dal (United) offer alternative to Congress-BJP politics. The rise of Jat vote and the demand for reservation for Jats as a product of post-Mandal political polarization has made caste based politics in Rajasthan more complicated. With a total population of 6.85 crores, 17.8% are scheduled caste.[2] So, caste is an important factor to reckon with in Rajasthan. With reference to popular faces, Ashok Gehlot is the face of Congress in Rajasthan and banks on his flagship schemes whereas Vasundhara Raje is very popular among women, school children and the urban middle class.

In a 40 member assembly, there is a triangular contest among Mizoram Democratic Alliance led by Mizo National Front, the ruling Congress and the Zoram Nationalist Party in Mizoram. Absence of significant political issues has resulted in Church dominating the socio-political scenario. Women constitute 55% of government workforce and make up 51% of the electorate, yet only 4 out of 142 candidates who have filed nominations are women.[3] The society is strictly patriarchal. It is only the Congress manifesto which mentions women.

The reality of election campaigning is very amusing and deplorable in all the five states. Poor infrastructure and socio-political realities make campaigning difficult in the world’s largest democracy. For instance in Rajasthan, the publicity material is often carried by camel carts in Jaisalmer and Barmer districts, in the interiors of which there are no vehicle service centres. The Rajasthan election department has adopted the traditional method of distributing yellow rice among people to draw voters to polling booths which demands for compulsory attendance in the booths.

In Maoist affected districts of Madhya Pradesh and Chhasttisgarh, candidates need police permission and protection to campaign in the interior areas. Whereas in Mizoram, election time is a low key affair. There are hardly any posters and mass rallies by the campaigners. Heated exchange of words and using derogatory language and violation of code of conduct is more visible and noticeable in Delhi.

There are serious concerns whether voters could actually exercise their right to vote in the world’s largest democracy. In Rajasthan party candidates and Election Commission officials have been using camels to transport men and material to distant places that are inaccessible. In Chhattisgarh schools have turned resting camps for paramilitary forces. Residents of several villages deep inside Maoist controlled areas have never voted in any election since independence and shifting of polling booths makes difficult for the voters to commute to areas where there are no roads.

Mizoram is an exception where there is 100% updated photo electoral rolls and 100% electors photo identity card issued by state election department.[4] An alternative communication network for interior villages where mobile network is absent is arranged. The Church has a say in deciding polling and counting dates. It also issued 4 pages list of do’s and don’ts for both voter and candidates.

Thus, the upcoming state assembly elections in all the five states have different socio-political trajectories. The whole democratic exercise offers a good picture of how vibrant and dissimilar democracy is in India, where every state has a different story and issues. Let us become the witness to this huge and distinctive exercise which tests the democratic traditions of our nation.

About the Author
Jwalant_1Jwalant Patel is a developer, entrepreneur and writer. He is currently working with NationsRoot.com. You can connect with him on Linkedin at: http://in.linkedin.com/in/jwalantpatel
Endnotes

[1] Statistics from The Hindu, November 11, 2013

[2] Statistics from The Hindu, November 10, 2013

[3] Statistics from Times of India.com

[4] Statistics from OneIndiaNews.com

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