Development agenda doesn’t win voters! Not yet!

The 2009 Lok Sabha elections make a definite paradigm shift. There is a new emphasis on development and government performance. The Congress harps on its performance and cites the Bharat Nirman and rural employment guarantee schemes as the two flagship development schemes and  appeals for the aam aadmi votes.

The BJP has an aggressive  new agenda, it has announced a 100 new infrastructure projects, a  new vision agenda, The 100 projects listed make for inspired reading, let us admit.
Even if 50 per cent of the promises made in the agenda is taken up, it would drive the much-touted and much assumed Dr.Manmohan Singh’s economic expertise-ridden(more jargon-ridden than substance-ridden!)agenda of development.

It looks as the election heat catches up the fight between the BJP and the Congress is likely to turn the people even towards the BJP. Why? after all the BJP under the tireless campaigning of its leader, L.K.Advani, has turned the spotlight on the weakness of not just the Prime Minister but also the weakness of the other leader, Sonia Gandhi and also her team of Congressmen, most of them late-comers to the party and their loyalty is mixed and everyone knows they are there just for the power and the pelf.

After all who are the familiar faces these days on the TV news channels? It is just lawyers turned spokespersons cum minister. Kapil Sibal and Singhvi and even Jayanti Natarajan, they are all lawyers, they know how to twist and turn the words and arguments, even P.Chidambaram is only such a clever manipulator of words and phrases.

The economic agenda of the Congress party is not  a party programme, it is a government programme, any government that comes to power in Delhi or any leader who turns up a coalition, has to have only a programme like the one in  operation. Even here, for any one who is serious about digging out the facts, the much highly rated National Highways Authority is a brainchild of the Vajpayee regime.

In fact, under Vajpayee years it was a shining success, under Dr.Singh the NHAI is a failure, Mr.T.R.Balu made mess of it.
So, this time there is a critical shift in the popular perception of which party would suit the peoples’ own well-being.

Whoever performs well, gives good governance, gives development and its various components, social infrastructure, education, essential articles, free rice and health schemes and economic infrastructure, electricity, irrigation and roads and good governance, less corruption, lok ayukta and such institutions, the people might prefer to vote for the development agenda of the party or parties only.

We can see this change of the voters’ perceptions in Bihar, in MP and Chhattisgarh and elsewhere.

Having said this there is another side to democratic politics.
People do choose for periodic change of faces.

In MP under Digvijay Singh education and panchayat governance acquired a national level appreciation. Yet Singh lost after two terms. In AP too under Naidu’s such an international-level brilliant performance, he had to lose not because he was not liked but people wanted to have a change.

So, there is something more than just black and white choices between development and the rest.

Yes, caste still dominates. UP shows the hold of the Dalit power. So too the old fellows, Lalu Yadav and Karunanidhi, they still cling to old mindset, caste calculations and chauvinism.
The Left give another picture. In Bengal and Kerala, people haven’t seen good roads, good jobs and good living standard. Yet they win. In Gujarat too we see that people don’t choose for a modern and progressive rising living standard. The state indulged in the worst communal crisis and yet Modi parades himself as a vote winner!

So, this time who would form the government in Delhi? Advani? Yes, there is a fair and not a faint chance!

Rural governance is not more of the same, right?
Election results is not just vote banks changing sides. We must see election outcome in some deeper perspective.

It is time for some soul searching and introspection. More so when we consider some fundamentals that remain unchanged in the rural environment.
A range of reforms, panchayat reforms, Integrated Child Development Services, mid-day meals, reports of the Consortium of Civil Society Organisations, Forest Rights Act etc are some milestones for any rural reforms.
Bring in a new set of new faces to this reform process.

When it comes to elections and election strategists, what is easy is the assumptions about the rural voters.

Yes, there are rural voters, vote banks in fact, which turned in favour of the Congress over all.

To say that the aaam aadmi voted for the Congress is only partially true.
We have to clear some hangups, after the many days of gap.

First, the caste-based politics. Is the caste-based voting this time didn’t play a major role in producing the results, which is the number of seats to parties, as it used to give in the past?

There is no clear answer this time too. Each state seems to have given a different set of reasons for the parties to lose and gain, as they did.

First, the BJP lost. Second, the Left lost. Third, the youth vote was not as decisive as it is made out now. So many surveys and statistics show that the youth very much voted as the older generation does. It is reported the Congress did a shae worse among young voters than the rest of the electorate! Even the choice of the younger members for Rahul Gandhi are “more or less” the same belonging to the older age group. This seems to be a consistent pattern in the previous election studies as well.

The attitudes of the youth in the West are different from the youth in India; the Western youth articulate their politics better, in a more often radical way than what their counterparts do here. The youth power, as such, is not a distinctly a decisive political force, as we imagine.

Then, there is the women vote. There is this time a record number of women MPs. This is a welcome change.

Women, it seems now decide, on their own, 43 per cent said they decide on their own. This is a welcome development. The Muslim vote?

Yes, this vote this time went in favour of the Congress over all, in UP and in West Bengal as well. In other states as well we see the Muslims over all are becoming more secular and modern minded when it comes to vote share, the traditional claimants like the SP in UP and the Left in West Bengal seem to have changed.
Then comes the regional and chauvinist parties.

In TN, there is still the hold of the Dravidian parties, the Congress lost heavily even in alliance with the DMK, while the ADMK too seemed to have lost heavily unexpectedly even in alliance with the Left parties and other caste parties.
The rural vote?

The rural votes are dominated by the Dalits and other lower castes; it is these castes who voted also in large numbers, the urban vote showed apathy while the rural votes were in higher percentages. Money power?

Yes, money power played a significant role in some states, more so in a more distinctive way in TN. Part machinery. Yes, party machinery is what mattered and the motivation. Many of the election studies or the TV channels comments dealt with the other extraneous factors like the glamour of film star candidates and others. The fact remains that even with a so-called dedicated cadre-based parties like the Left, the CPI and the CPI (M), we see this time, the parties suffered heavily in Kerala and West Bengal. We know for sure in Kerala the CPI (M) is as corrupt as in the neighbouring Tamil Nadu. So, the CPI (M) suffered, while the DMK did well, more wooing to the practice of distributing and sharing the spoils of election cash bundles.

May be it is the same now everywhere. Black money is a big factor and no one says it so openly, may be the Congress spent more money this time, while the BJP and others like (the AIADMK) didn’t spend as much. Why?

Simply because the parties concerned didn’t have the funds, they couldn’t generate the required funds. A simple and unglamorous explanation? So be it.
The DMK earned this time enough notoriety for its stubborn demands for plush portfolios.

In the process, the Congress lost face and also quickly saved face.
The Prime Minister had to eat his words and swallow his pride and acknowledge in public that he didn’t say anything unfavorable about the DMK claimants for plum portfolios like surface transport and telecommunications.

And yet  we saw the ultimate winner, the one who had the last laugh was the DMK chief who had it all he wanted, though he lost it out in seeking the surface transport for his near loyalist who the New Delhi TV channels  castigated the DMK for using the Delhi government portfolios as ATMs!

So, the money power, the cadre power and a well oiled party machinery that rigs the votes are all contributing factors for the sorts of wins we saw in some of the key states. The states that gave a mixed verdict from the larger and broader ideological perspective,

So what is the role or relevance of ideologies in this elections? A good question that must provide us some reasonable answers as out polity is evolving towards a more liberal and a more positive vote for change for the better of the largest number of people.

Some ideologists and articulators might despair about the persistence of high malnourished children, pregnant women. The government expenditure on health and education, the lowest in the world (Mihir Shah).

Is this the vote for more economic reforms? More privatisation is more reforms?
Such questions would trouble any conscience! Conscience wont let us make some facile assumptions of change, rural governance and sustainable fight to reduce poverty and social deprivations.

All this calls for much more serious dialogue and introspection.

Governance is not more of the same, right?

What new he would do in agriculture?

Sharad Pawar is back in Krishi Bhavan. This is not the old Pawar. This is a new Pawar. The old Pawar was the most swaggering and more ambitious leader who thought his eye on the Delhi throne was very much within his sight. Alas!

Politics is a cruel and power game. It doesn’t wait for anyone. Time and tide don’t wait for anybody. So, Pawar is now out and down and beaten roundly, if we can say so in a much more downright straightforward manner.

Yes, Pawar has many credentials to his illusions and delusions. He has the experience, the wealth and the reach. He is a master tactician and manipulator and as every other Indian politician he is thoroughly amoral and has no scruples.

He never stood for any consistent politics, he was always winning and wanted to win and that is why he has come so far. In the process accumulated money, power and fame. Unfortunately democratic politics in India is being played; it seems, on a different set of rules, more so after the advent of Sonia Gandhi.

As some media commentators during the campaign and after have noted that democracy in India is one thing. You can have your own formulations and visions. But then there is the Indian National Congress which, by now, after the advent of the Gandhis, both Sonia and Rahul, has acquired its own meaning of democracy. There is the dynasty factor.

Given the long history of the party, any split, and any revolt within the party is nearly impossible to sustain. So, all who had revolted and gone out have come back and submitted to the demands of the family.

Seen in this context, this time Pawar’s calculations have gone all completely awry.
NCP lost owing to a combination of factors. The Shivsena split, the BJP and the Raj Thakeray’s MNs had split the Marathi vote and the man who wanted to symbolise the Marathi pride stood isolated.

So, surprisingly, the urban Mumbai voted solidly for the Congress and in the sweep the Congress came the winner and the NCP the loser.

Yes, it is a great pity.

Now, what Pawar would do in Krishi Bhavan? We know what he did in his previous term.

He went for swings in policy, import when there is a shortage, be it sugar or wheat or other commodities, palm oil or pulses. This time too he would do the same, as we can expect. Pawar is a realist, too much of a realist and too little of a visionary.

So, he played the sugar lobby with such penchant for profits the result today is that there is a severe shortage, there is import and most of all sugarcane production has become unviable and the consequences is there for all to see. At one point, there was the talk of taking away the portfolio of food and consumer affairs from his charge.

In fact, it would have done some good, at least it would have given Pawar and for us, the public, a perspective of what he would be doing with the raising the production of foodgrains and other commodities.

Now, he is there with the promise, the Congress promise to provide the “free rice” scheme under the election promise of protection under the National Food security Act. This may be one more big populist scheme like the massive farm debt write off? It looks like that.

But then there are other deeper structural issues in Indian agriculture. The point we like to raise here is: does Pawar has any idea of what the Indian agriculture currently cries for attention? One is not sure. There is the basic and sustaining reality about the Indian agriculture. Progressively, farming in India is becoming economically unviable, right?

How to make farming a viable activity and also living in rural areas more meaningful? for this to happen we need a series of policies. A more realistic land reforms policy.

Owning land and leasing it out for farming must be realistic. An antiquated tenancy system drives away land owners from leasing out. So we see there is much “absentee landlordism”, there is a very restrictive land ownership policy and this courages buying and investing in land.

We have to “liberalise many of the land reforms acts”. We have to encourage investments in new rural and land technologies, a new policy that would encourage investments in SMEs in the rural and agriculture fields.

A range of production, preservation and marketing of agri products through a revamped co-operative marketing system, as well as co-operative credit societies. There is now new policy or even there doesn’t seem to be any awareness among the   new policy makers about the need to implement the Vaidyanathan committee report on co-operative credit.

The result is that once the massive write off of farm credit, the next step or the process is left to an un known future. Banks, ideally, are not the ideal institutions to give the rural credit the sustaining power of being near and protective to the needs and requirements of the farmers. The point is there needs to be institutional reforms at the agriculture and the rural levels. Something like an Amul co-operative farming and marketing of inputs and output. Pawar never showed any insight or imagination in bringing new talents and insights and even advice and expertise in innovative farming sector reforms. It is time he becomes a bit more restive and more modest in calling for new faces to interact with him.

Let us hope there is some fresh winds across the windows and shutters of the stuffy Krishi Bhavan!

What the election results mean to the Congress?  To the BJP and other big parties?

Any general election is a major political event. The 2009 Lok Sabha elections and the results are no different.

That is no different from the past trends.
May be in the last two decades we saw the unstable coalitions and thus this latest results comes as a relief.

There is now a possibility there will be more a stable government.
But then it is also time to do some introspection for the parties concerned.
Any winning party or parties will make lots of claims for their victory.
So, this time, the Congress party, the single largest party to win 206 seats and with allies a more significant number to make the UPA a combination of a force for forming the government.

So, what are the claims of the Congress?

The vote for the Congress is a vote for a stable India, for a more secular India, for a more development-oriented, a more youth focused India? So say the soothsayers. The TV channels and others.  Then, what are the claims of other victors? The state level parties and governments? Sure enough the vote in Orissa and in AP point towards a vindication of the governments’ performances therein West Bengal? In Kerala?

Sure, the Communists were roundly defeated. Their penchant for aggressive radicalism, their penchant for sort of anti-national anti-development oriented economic policies has been defeated convincingly.

They, the communists must recover and they can do so only by dropping their pet prejudices and their pet narrow-minded and a sort of isolating their mindset from the rest of the society. Honestly Mr.Prakash Karat must offer to step down and his theories must be buried honorably and new faces, new ideas and new mindsets, some sort of an accommodative, democratic minded leadership must emerge in Kolkata and Trivandrum.

Enough noise and spectacle Mr.Karat had made and enough is enough now!
As for the other big losers, mssrs, Lalu Yadav, Paswan and Mulyam Yadav, they are seasoned men, they know their groundwork, they are firmly rooted in the soil and they knew the power of the socio-economic nature of the castes and the social classes. So one can expect they would go back to their constituencies and they would once again start working. They are sure to come with new ideas and strategies. They can’t be written away.

Let us know they are no adventurers like Mayawati and even the southern Dravidians! Mayawati over-estimated her knowledge. Poor lady, she must now do some hard work. She must perform. She should deliver on her many promises, economic development, the fruits of development, water, power, roads and social sector targets, some of the more enlightened social sector polices like universal education, education of girl child and universal healthcare are the toughest jobs any progressive government must grapple with. Mayawati, let us hope and expect, would learn her lessons.

The more promising and the one that would inspire people is the case of Orissa. Orissa is a phenomenon. Here is a chief minister who doesn’t speak his own language, Oriya and yet he has become the darling of the masses. Also, let us know that Orissa has some of the intractable problems land for the new and large iron ore mines and the steel giants of the world have to be tackled. This is no easy job. Yet see what the common people of Orissa have done. They have voted for Naveen Patnaik, overwhelmingly for the third time. A great day for grass roots democracy. No less is significant the success of Dr.YSR Reddy. Whatever might be the criticisms, here is one Congress chief minister who rose against the giants, TDP and Praja Rajyam is a big achievement. So, we congratulate Dr.Reddy for what he had accomplished.

Now the other state parties, the Dravidians we leave here and see what the situation in Maharashtra is. Sharad Pawar was humbled, yes, that is the right word to describe his present condition. He overshot his targets and he over confidently went about.

Shivsena is another big loser. Its entire ideology is now discredited. Sena seems to have lost its rationale, in a fast urbanising India with Mumbai being the greatest magnet, what is the chance for a Marathi focused vote bank.

And of course working on the injured, real or imagined, Marathi pride Raj Thackeray had capitalised that imagined injury to the self-image and helped to defeat the Sena as well as the chances of the NCP. This helped the Congress.
Of course, the Congress claims victory in the Mubain city constituencies as a vote for youth, as a vote for development and as a vote for all the Congress has stood for.

Fine, you can’t quarrel with such claims. As for the BJP and its governments in the state, can we write off the BJP as a spent force?

You can do so at your peril. India is a large country and a diverse society and constituencies with much diverse political and socio-cultural appeal. So comes the relevance of the rightwing party like the BJP. Yes, we may have reservations about some of its policies and policy formulations.

But the BJP has much relevance and much future. Provided it reformulates its policies suitable to the temper of the times. Let the BJP come with some modern themes. There are some very good and capable leaders also in the BJP ranks.
They can be a match for the diverse characters who now make up the Congress pantheon. So too the governance norms on which the BJP scores in the states where it is in power.

Overall, it is development, it is secularism, and it is a vote for a set of hopes from the youth, from the lower castes and classes. May be better education, more education for the SC/STs and the OBcs, they have their own dreams to be fulfilled. May be more modern policies for urbanising India, better infrastructure in diverse fields.

What is left unsaid and remains unspoken is the need for a genuine democracy, genuine democratic rights, more human rights, more personal space, more individual freedoms, the culture freedoms, not for moral policing and more privacy and more freedoms to work and earn and accumulate  without too much restrictive policies.

Over all it s positive vote for a more confident India.

On the lines of the American Peace Corps!

This magazine in its original avatar was founded by an American Peace Corps volunteer!

It was meant to be a newsletter of a rural school founded by me way back in the year 1962 and it evolved over the years in its present form.

Just now I read about the reviving of the fortunes of the American Peace Corps under the new President Barack Obama. Obama reminds many the old John Kennedy mystique of soaring idealism and a romantic view of the world as a peaceful haven for the most civilised form of living for everyone, irrespective of the race and economics and social opportunities.

How beautiful the world will be if such idealism gets translated into workable social and economic policies and a political landscape marked by co-operative and less greedy and less power-hungry politicians!

Now, the budget for the American Peace Corps volunteers is to be doubled and it is hoped that under Obama the world would see much people to people co-operation and fellowship of living harmoniously.

The though came to me suddenly, more so, in the current elections and electioneering that is marked by small minds and talking small and silly things.

What Lalu Prasad and Deve Gowda have in common? Nothing just lust for power! What Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi have in common? Nothing but simple greed for power and with the fear both of them avoid the bigger thoughts, bigger picture of India as a great nation in the world. So, they have avoided all interaction with the big minds, big ideas and big visions. No big moral impulses either!

See the PM a very sorry picture of all contradictions, now at the fag end of the elections he appears before the TV screen, also his hapless(or helpless?)family members to give the man some humanity of look!

Sonia Gandhi feels secure in isolation, all her allies deserted her, now she is lonely and also advice less and poor advisers who advise her all wrongly, when it comes to men and talents.

Even the most aged and most loyal of her servants, Arjun Singh, the HRD minister, is left to weep and wipe out his tears at this age, when his daughter and son are denied Congress tickets, when Sonia rewards blatant party hoppers, she acts in total desperation, no vision or conviction or has he ever cultivated any principles-based loyalty.
All her present men and women are there for the simple livelihood, it sees.
What she loses if she just gives the pleading, the tears-laded poor Arjun Singh the two seats he desperately seeks for his own dynasty!

All in bad tastes and bad form and there are no leaders who seem or capable of lifting India’s vision to a higher level or leading the country to some worthy cause.
It is time Manmohan Singh vacates the high office and thereby upholds the sanctity of the high office of the Prime Minister of India.

We need men and leaders of a higher calibre. This is possible only when the leaders adopt some parliamentary procedures.

What is the UPA now, except loud talking ambitious individuals who all seem to be losing their moral claims to aspire for the higher offices?

India needs visionary leaders.
There are so many challenges.

The regional and separatist parties that aspire to decide the Prime Minister are just unworthy to be political parties.

India needs a unity of purpose, India needs a strong core.
This national integration can be brought about only by imaginative policies like starting an Indian version of the Peace Corps.

Ideally, an Indian Peace Corps must have an international wing and must carry the message of Mahatma Gandhi of peace and non-violence to the strife- torn parts of the world.

The home based Peace Corps volunteers must be deployed to troubled regions within the country itself. North Indian students serve in the South; Southern students serve in the Northern India.

One year of social service, with minimum pay, must be given credits for seeking a variety of concessions and admissions and even in government selection for jobs.
This is the core. The details can vary and we can design varied job profiles for varied talents. Any young man or woman can join the one-year social service assignments.
After a gap year, as they call it in the West even these practical experience must be counted  for  admissions to professional colleges, as engineers and doctors these people would surely would turn out to be more broad-minded and would become assets in their professions.

An all India outlook for young men and women would ideally suit the DMK/Shiv Sena trained narrow minds and would broaden the young minds.
John Kennedy said that the Peace Corps “do represent the best foreign diplomacy you can get”

Why not Indians become the new generation peace crops diplomats in other states and in other countries, in the distant and neighbouring countries.
An allocation of Rs.100 cores as the initial corpus fund can kick off this new initiative.

Image Source: smh.com.au