Electoral outcomes: Lessons from India and from elsewhere

A lot of our politics is increasingly resembling a chatterbox. You say something. Someone else gainsays. People left in the lurch don’t see how all those discussions are improving their lot

Let’s go to the last election results in two of India’s largest states: Bihar and Uttar Pradesh (UP). As it is well known, the BJP-Narendra Modi juggernaut swept to an absolute all-India victory in the national elections of 2014. No need for an alliance to form the central government. This victory has been interpreted as a repudiation of the past policies consisting of half-measures and appeasement adopted by the outgoing government.

Like Labour and the MMM here in Mauritius, the pre-2014 alliance in power in India counted on the loyalty of past followers and electoral trends to secure victory at the polls. Little did it realise that the tide had turned against political apathy and politics-as-usual.

When it came to the state elections in Bihar late in 2015, many assumed that the national Modi wave would also work wonders in the state with its 67 million voters. Nothing of the sort happened. On the contrary, the BJP secured only 53 out of the 243 Assembly seats, down from the 91 seats it held in the previous Assembly in the state.

The reason the BJP-Modi magic didn’t work in Bihar was that the ruling Nitish Kumar state government (which had formed a grand alliance with like-minded parties against the BJP) was not far to seek. Nitish Kumar’s previous government in the state had spent its term extending the provision of basic needs of his state’s mainly underserved rural population. It had devoted resources to building infrastructure, the most significant of which was the extension of the electricity grid to places that had remained in the dark after sunset for ages. It secured a thumping majority with 178 out of the 243 State Assembly seats.

Elections played out quite differently in March 2017 in the state of Uttar Pradesh (UP), which hosts 141 million voters. Here is a state whose essentially past caste politics had made politics a matter of separate representation in the State Assembly – essentially a struggle to secure power among distinct factions. As a result, the law and order situation had worsened, with violence on the rise. Corruption and poverty were rife. The people were impoverished. The education system had gone into a deplorable state. The state also had one of the worst infrastructures of all India.

Given a chance to move out of this morass, people voted massively for the alternative Modi-led BJP last March, in the hope something concrete will be done to improve their lot. The BJP and allies secured 325 Assembly seats out of 403, 278 higher than what they had in the previous Assembly.

Parties which had dominated UP state politics heretofore, like the Samajwadi Party and Congress, lost as many as 198 seats they held in the previous Assembly and the BSP 61 of them.

In Bihar, the party in power had implemented policies which had kept improving the day-to-day life of people, especially in the rural areas where deprivation was worst under preceding corrupt governments. Having to choose between this party and the BJP, voters preferred to trust the one who had already delivered concrete positive improvements in what touched them nearest in day-to-day life. On the other hand, the BJP, as the challenger, routed the previous power holders in UP: voters decided that they could not be worse off than they had been.

Lesson from everywhere else

Sophisticated discussions on issues among power holders do not reach out to people’s basic needs or improve their sometimes bleak prospects. Welfare of the masses who vote such politicians to power, is not thereby raised. People are moving away from power politicians who do not deal constructively with the mundane difficulties people face every day.

Endless political discussions which don’t help improve the daily lot of the common man or his living conditions, governments which don’t “get things done”, all these are being thrown out in both developed and developing countries. Exigencies of the moment take priority over everything else.

This phenomenon is playing out not only in Britain and America. Several European countries are concerned. Francois Hollande is probably no fool for having opted not to participate in the French presidential elections. He doesn’t have much on the hands to show, not having been much of a doer.

Mauritius

A lot of our own politics is increasingly resembling a chatterbox. You say something. Someone else gainsays. People left in the lurch don’t see how all those discussions are improving their lot.

Take the issue of the level of the interest rate. The common man who saves for a rainy day wants to have reasonable returns on his savings. He barely gets anything much by way of interest income on his savings, whether in rupees or in foreign currencies. Demand for credit is down. We are told investors can’t afford to pay a higher interest rate, given the returns they achieve in the business.

On the other hand, house property prices have kept escalating the past decade. Real estate developers have put on a par foreign buyers of property with locals. The latter who don’t earn in euros or dollars and have much lower incomes compared with the foreign buyers, can get into house properties only after borrowing substantial amounts. It seems that no one in power focuses on this real life problem.

People at different levels of the economic spectrum need affordable housing. The voter is getting increasingly frustrated in that he can’t afford to buy up a reasonable house without incurring significant debt. He is caught in a spiral of low earnings on his savings and ever increasing property prices.

We needed to bring in new investments which have higher rates of returns than businesses that can’t afford higher interest rates. Such investments would have helped grow up the economy, increase employment opportunities and gradually raised, by the same token, the interest being paid on financial savings. Instead of that, we’ve been sending negative signals.

But there are simpler things touching upon the daily lives of people which could have had positive spill overs.

Infrastructure is not really responding to the daily needs of the people. Road markings wash away. Recently constructed public roads develop potholes after some amount of rain. There’s no one, it seems, to put back broken roads in good working order while the traffic flow keeps increasing, unchecked. The provision of a steady supply of water 24/7 to households all over the island has been more the subject of discussions than of practical action to get to solutions. It is a basic need not being attended to by succeeding governments.

The report on the recent foot-and-mouth disease may reveal that we don’t have the critical mass of best qualified technicians to deal with such matters. What of that? For quite some years, people are seeing local bananas going black due to some disease: there is neither action to stop it, nor to explain what should be done about it. The situation deteriorates.

The same kind of apathy has affected the local production of tomatoes: they develop a rot from inside barely after a week. It seems there’s no one to deal with the problem. One wonders whether consumers and planters aren’t paying the price for anything-but-faster-result-driven management of research in the agricultural sector?

The sooner politicians reckon with the reality facing common people every day and bring about improvements in them, the more they can withstand election defeats. They may ask Nitish Kumar of Bihar to help them understand how this is done.

Anil Gujadhur

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