The Shifting Sands in Run Up to ‘D’ Day

The Countdown has Begun, and the Dice is Rolling. In the shifting sands, as the dust brings its haze, clarity of outcome remains fudgy, at best.

The Dice is Rolling! What number will it settle upon? Is it really going to be 370? It could be more, or less! Only the Heavens know, or in a more practical sense, only the average voter knows. Which is not you and me! We, sitting in our urban cocoons, are not the average voter, that we all know. Any poll, any survey is not likely to tell us the end result. Just look back at 2019. It seemed to be going close but in the slog overs, all the remaining results came in favour of the ruling BJP, and the PM returned from Kedarnath from his prayers, more than answered.

This time, with 2024 elections towering upon us, in the last few weeks, if all was understood to be known, some new factors have emerged and what impact will these have, is difficult to tell.

The arrest of Kejriwal and freezing of Congress accounts

First is the arrest of Kejriwal! Is he corrupt, or not? Was his arrest warranted or not? Having evaded the ED warrants to appear for nine times, did he think he was the proverbial cat, with nine lives? Why arrest him not the first, nor the second, only after nine times. Was the decision delayed, to arrest him closer to the election time? The government has arrested him only after he has evaded notice nine times, not permissible under our ‘checks and balances’ understanding of our constitution. Is he being singled out? Yes, possibly, but he was also another Mr. Clean?

Similarly, consider the case of the Income tax department freezing the Congress accounts followed by the notice of arrears. Was this, too, timed for closer to the elections? The Congress can be crying hoarse, but the fact is that they have a notice served upon them. Call it unfair, but not illegal.

New issues emerging, new areas of concern; will these create only more confusion in the minds of the voter? If we thought we had sorted out our answers to all the known issues, new ones are emerging closer to the ‘D’ day. Clouding further the average mind.

So, will the real issues get sidetracked? Instead of trying to win, would the opposition be left to fight with their backs against the wall? Instead of attacking, are they being reduced to defending their turf? If you look at the media, this is all what it is about: Kejriwal, Congress accounts and notices, and some such. The bigger issues facing the nation do not appear to be in the frontline.

The ‘Conscience’ weighs heavier in times like these

What is the other major news these days? It is how netas are crossing the floor! With such impunity and such bravado, like it was a hero come back, like it was a call of duty that could not be denied, like it was a last-minute call of conscience to serve the nation. No doubts in the mind, no explanation required, it is just a sudden decision, to serve the nation best. Not individuals only, even political parties en masse. Some have been high profile, some surprising as well. Each is finding his feet in the quicksand. The matter has become so routine that it is not even worrying anyone anymore. Some will get voted for themselves, some as the new party candidate which they have joined, as they believe the party has the edge, with ‘a single magical name’, that will get them elected. The “Modi ki Guarantee” does give that assurance, in large parts of the country! Switching allegiance has become so routine, that there are friends, of many years, in politics and I cannot recall which party they are in at present. But then does it matter, you might ask?

Is the average citizen insulated from the Political Game?

That is another point of view. Worth mentioning here. How many lives are really impacted by the politics of the day? There are knowledgeable people who believe the economy is on a roll, on the back of an aspirational middle class that wants to better their lives, has become more intensely competitive and simply wants to work. Increasingly, they are taking up enterprise, not just taking jobs. So long as they are allowed to do their thing, growing their class, they are happy unto themselves. Who rules the country matters less, so long as we are a nation on the move, moving up the global pecking order, and proud to be an Indian. They will vote, exercise their franchise, but it does not ‘really’ matter to them in their daily lives, as to who rules. Life goes on. The bureaucracy is the same. With such criss-crossing of leadership, political parties are becoming more or less the same. But are they the same, and how much?

Erosion of Democracy: The Big Boiling Issue!

What more of these present times? Charges and counter charges that the spirit of democracy is being eroded. What was surprising was that an international agency like the UN took notice and hoped that all will be fair and clean in our run up! After two statements from the Germans and another from the US! In spite of objections from the MEA, these bodies have not stopped. Neither has the government in arguing this is our internal affair, and does not warrant such interference.

Professor Ashutosh Varshney, Sol Goldman Professor of International Studies and Social Sciences, Brown University, considered an international authority on constitutional studies, has raised an alarm on the role of the natural watchdogs in any functional democracy – the Election Commission and the Supreme Court. He said in an interview with Karan Thapar that much depends upon the role of these two bodies, how much they will intervene and ensure the rule of law, and ensure a fair and transparent play of contests in politics. These are early days yet, with almost two months to go before the results are out; in between, both these bodies will have their hands full, with petitions, PILs, claims and counter-claims.

Our two planks should be Development and Defence

Had we bargained for such fiercely contested elections? Is this the emerging order of the day? Looking across the globe, it does seem so. Look at the maturest democracy in action, the United States, where the hot contestant Donald Trump has said if he loses, chaos will reign. Imagine, this is being said in the US? Is there such a trend globally towards majoritarianism? Can India buck the trend? There are voices who will question why we should? Was democracy not the rule of the majority?

Can we at this juncture, when we are ready to roll as an emerging global player, can we afford so many discordant voices? Can we lose sight of our need to develop and grow? Is there any consensus that we can arrive at? In so many matters, I dare say, there may not be so many disagreements. It is the few areas like oft repeated allegations and concerns: the ‘indiscriminate and selective use of government agencies’ that the opposition is protesting. But the government would say, it is the independent agencies that are doing their job, there is no law that says they should rest awhile because elections are on hand! So, the differences continue to fester. One wishes, some of these differences can be narrowed down! Our two planks should be development and defence, nothing else should matter! Development that is inclusive and comprehensive; defence that ensures safety and security of our people.

A Happy Family in which we are All Indians

It is the shifting sands in politics. Getting mired so deep, that any calculations would be futile. Every day brings news of fresh adjustments. How will these trickle down to actual votes? Which party will effectively communicate its mandate to its own committed voters? How much will deep fake and blatant use of AI to mis-communicate work? More and more, social media skills have become an important tool to engage as well as disengage, to inform as well as misinform. Who has the funds to spend? All this costs money and literally tonnes of it. Is there a downside to too much advertising? Is there an optimum that a voter can stomach and is that any extra brings fatigue?

In terms of maths, numbers are not coming easy, as yet. Some alliances will cost votes, others will win votes. What will be the net result. How much the winners of 2019 in the states retain their share and win again in 2024? How much does individual bias play a part when we forecast this election? Who has the pulse of the nation with him? But honestly, how much does it matter how many numbers come one’s way? So long as you are on the winning side.

In all this game, truth has become the first casualty. Is there a growing unemployment? Is the farmer restive? Have we managed to pull out more people out of the poverty line? Government schemes have been plenty, innovative and meaningful. Schemes like DBT, push for UTI, and more. But how much have they impacted lives, in terms of numbers across the hinterland? Meanwhile, GST figures have shown a most robust buoyancy, reflecting more commerce, trade and business.

The answers are not too far off, just another 60 days to go, before a new government gets elected. One can only hope that once this phase is over, we will settle down to accepting the results, as they come, find meaningful silence, understand and accept that not everything is politics, there are national concerns that override politics, and put the emphasis back to where it should be: development and inclusive growth in our society. A happy family in which all are Indians, above all else.


Navin Berry, Editor, Destination India, over five decades has edited publications like CityScan, India Debates and Travel Trends Today. He is the founder of SATTE, India’s first inbound tourism mart, biggest in Asia.



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