Election planks and how governance won over bluster

Patricia Mukhim

Everyone of us who have had enough of the daily vitriol spouted out by BJP head honchos and their younger acolytes in the run-up to the Delhi Assembly elections heaved a sigh of relief on February 11 last when the results were out. The BJP could not have shot itself in the foot with greater precision than it did during the Delhi campaign trail what with threats of shooting down anti-nationals (meaning anyone who does not share their ideology) and even demeaning one of our favourite dishes the “biryani” as if anyone eating this delicacy is a Pakistani loyalist. What have we come down to in this country of professed democratic ideals and racial and cultural diversity that even an item of food is aligned with a particular faith? Will this get worse? Or will the BJP have learnt a lesson worth remembering? The answer to that question will only be revealed in the West Bengal and Assam state assembly elections due in April 2021. My guess is that elections in West Bengal will be pretty bloody and ugly.

The BJP has not learnt the virtues of mutual toleration which in short means that as long as your rivals play by constitutional rules they have a right to exist, compete for power and govern. Hence the phrase, “Congress mukht Bharat” is one intolerant position the BJP has taken. It’s another matter that the Congress is now on a self-imposed electoral banishment because it is simply unwilling to reinvent itself and shake off dynasty. Even if political parties strongly dislike their rivals they must accept then as legitimate. Just because a political party opposes the BJP does not mean it is unpatriotic, seditious or anti-national. As long as political parties abide by the Constitution they have a right to exist and cannot be seen as an existential threat. Why should non-BJP parties be treated as treasonous, subversive or otherwise beyond the pale? BJP leaders and supporters may be licking their wounds after the Delhi results but this is not an apocalyptic event. In a thriving democracy, the Aam Aadmi Party cannot be seen as the enemy. Let it govern Delhi. Let the BJP govern the country which at the moment it is failing to do. Let it do a chintan baithak on the state of the economy. That should make more sense than bickering over why AAP won and how it won because Kejriwal went to Hanuman mandir and so on and so forth. Let the BJP also learn lessons in democracy. We are well past the age when opposition to those in power was considered treason. Democracy can only survive when its institutions are checked; more so the executive (government) and judiciary!

Meghalaya has so far not had such a hate-filled election campaign even from the BJP and its cheerleaders. Of course the BJP does not yet have the bandwidth for spreading hate the way it did in Delhi. But we will have to be vigilant. In Meghalaya the BJP has remained relatively civil and has stressed on good governance. Religion was never overtly flaunted as an agenda. On the contrary there are and have been surreptitious attempts from adherents of different religious persuasions to embark on a whispering campaign to ensure that their respective candidates win. So let’s not pretend we are outraged by the use of religion as an electoral tool. Religious institutions with en-bloc votes are favourite haunts of all candidates but more so those belonging to the same religious denomination as those running such institutions. Politicians will use every trick in the trade to win elections. That in Meghalaya they have steered clear of course language and stuck to the rhetoric of development (which is never fulfilled) is small comfort. Yes they have pulled the wool over our eyes by promising us the moon without telling us how and where the resources are going to come from. And we as gullible voters have clapped in admiration at the speech-giving ability of our politicians. We have recently done the same at Madan Student Jaiaw when Ardent Basaiawmoit came up with his battle-cry of Khasi nationalism. What no one asked him was the “How’s, Why’s and Wherefore’s” of his xenophobic outburst and whether they are possible in the 21st century.

Democracy requires VOICES if it is to thrive. Where are those voices that question government on issues and engage with it without putting it in a corner and threatening a Revolution? Democracy is inherently noisy; that’s because diversity of thought crucial to its survival. We realise this now when the BJP and its Sangh Parivar are pushing us towards uniformity of thought and ideology. When diverse perspectives are unrepresented in discussions; when some kind of thinkers aren’t at the table then democracy becomes an echo chamber rather than a sounding board and we all lose out. This is where “political appointments” to every conceivable institution from the Tourism Development Corporation to the Planning Board and the now defunct Economic Development Council become exercises in self-defeat. How many advisors does CM Conrad Sangma and what are their special competencies? And since they enjoy certain perks from the public exchequer, may we ask what their contributions have been over the past one year? Maybe it’s time to do an RTI on this too!

The one reason why Arvind Kejriwal returned to power is because he was seen to be pro-people; no fantasy foreign holidays; no VIP entourage; always ready to meet with people; and above all not quarantined from meeting anyone by appointed middle men. Actually, these middle men alienate people from their rulers because it is they who weed out those they believe should or should not meet the CM, HM etc. A Chief Minister or Home Minister in Meghalaya does not need bouncers to keep out people. We are decent humans who will back off if we are told the CM, HM or other ministers don’t wish to meet us. Simple!

The other reason for the AAP victory is civic governance. True there is still a lot to do to clean up decades of the mess in Delhi, especially its slums but the AAP Government cannot be accused of not trying.  Someone has rightly commented that there is much criticism of AAP doling out freebies to win the 2020 election. A freebie is a gratis benefit that is paid for by taxpayers for political mileage. But when increased efficiency of operations of a government yields dividends for shareholding citizens, can those be called freebies? AAP was able to give freebies because of reduced rent-seeking hence lower administrative costs and by plugging revenue leakages for which the taxpayer paid nothing more. Hence AAP actually paid dividends to its citizen share- holders without taxing them for it.

In the area of health the AAP Government has made health services accessible to the poor through the mohallah clinics. This I believe is the best thing that has happened for the poor and slum dwellers of Delhi. Since Delhi is the national capital, the AAP Government is freed of the responsibility of road construction etc. Hence it is able to provide more social services such as a more constructive educational curriculum which is much talked about in the country. Now that Aatishi Marlena has been elected it is hoped that educational reforms will be scaled up.

The AAP MLAs are full time MLAs and concentrate on their work as legislators. That cannot be said of our MLAs here. The majority are part time MLAs and full time business persons, coal mine owners, contractors et al. The MLAs here have divided loyalties. So why do we continue to elect such men/women? The Delhi election steered clear of one thing – no money was distributed by the AAP candidates. Here money, including the MLA scheme is now used as election funding by releasing funds at the fag end of five years. Many ask why good candidates with the desire to serve don’t win elections.  The answer is that as long as people sell their votes they will never get the MLAs they deserve. Period.

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