AS we go to press, the last vote in the 15th general elections should have been cast except in such cases where the Election Commission may have ordered for a re-poll. This, however, has not happened in one constituency – Mathurapur – in West Bengal where due to faulty electronic voting machines, polling will now take place on May 14 in 101 polling stations. This constituency will, thus, be subjected to undue influences as the exit polls have been aired under the presumption that the voting has been completed on the 13th. All pleas to the Election Commission to postpone the exit polls till after this have fallen on deaf ears. Would this have been the case, if the concerned constituency was not in a Left-dominated West Bengal, but Advani's Gandhinagar or Sonia Gandhi's Rae Baraeli?
Be that as it may. A long and grueling election campaign has ended. Unlike fools who rush into places where angels dread to enter, we refrain from making predictions on the outcome. This, in any case, would be known by the time we reach you. But certain observations would be in order.
Campaigning for over six weeks from Darjeeling to Kanyakumari, from Sikar in Rajasthan to Barpeta in Assam, the one dominant feature that was obvious was that people everywhere were seeking relief from their day-to-day burdens. Growing unemployment as a result of the global recession (see editorial) accompanied by spiralling prices of essential commodities have been subjecting the people to a double whammy onslaught. How such a relief could be provided was, of course, left to the political parties and their candidates and to the new government that will assume office.
This may sound to be at complete variance from large sections of media reporting, particularly by the electronic media. Given their proclivity for sensation and, hence, the emphasis on the inane and the trivial, they have tried to project these elections as one without any issue.
In a sense this reflects the wide disconnect between the `shining' and `suffering' India. The bulk of the viewership of the English news channels comes from the elite sections in the metros, where majority of the population did not vote. The bulk of those who have voted must, surely, belong to the working sections servicing the needs of this elite. This is unfortunate for the future of our democracy where there is a growing distinction between the `voter' and the `people'.
Returning to the campaign, it is clear that the people expect of the new government that assumes office to take urgent measures to provide relief. This, however, can only be done if there is a radical shift in the policy direction which puts people before profits. As argued in these columns on many occasions, only a government that has the courage and commitment to hugely enlarge public investments, which generate both employment and domestic demand, can meet the current challenges and provide relief to the people. Let us hope that such an alternative secular combination that can undertake this urgent task will form the government following these general elections.
USE OF MONEY POWER
Another feature of these elections has been the unprecedented use of money power in many parts of the country. Phenomenal expenditures have been made. It is, indeed, ironic that general elections coming in the context of the global recession may be fortuitous. The expenditures could well provide a much-needed stimulus. It is true that during elections, every strata – from rag pickers to corporate executives – find gainful employment. The budget has allocated Rs 9700 crore for these elections (This, as is the general practice, may well increase substantially). While the expenditure limit prescribed by the Election Commission is Rs 35 lakh for a candidate in a constituency, there is no limit on the expenditure incurred by the parties or by their friends and well-wishers (For instance, the BJP has reportedly paid Rs 72 lakh for a helicopter for its president to campaign for just six hours!). Given the current profligacy, the major parties are estimated to spend anywhere around Rs 10 crore per candidate. Various independent estimations suggest that on a very conservative basis, the expenditures would be over Rs 25 crore by all candidates in a constituency. Added to the budgetary allocation, this means that at the very minimum at least Rs 30,000 crore would be spent. Additionally, illegally accumulated monies will also be laundered. During the recent Karnataka assembly elections, according to media reports, the police had impounded two cars stacked with gunny bags loaded with Rs 1000 and Rs 500 notes. No one owned up to these crores of rupees. In Andhra Pradesh alone, the police is reported to have seized over Rs 40 crore while this was being ferried to various constituencies during these elections.
In the midst of this, the Indian voter has turned out, as always, to be more intelligent. Money has been taken from all those who are distributing it. Thus leaving in grave doubt as to whom they have voted for! No wonder, that pollsters continue to be bewildered in their projections.
Mercifully, all efforts to sharpen communal polarisation by the BJP and its candidates have not yielded the desired results for them. Practicing the worst form of `vote bank politics', the BJP had tried to whip up communal passions. While the communal undercurrent will always there, it failed to reach the levels of a crescendo that the BJP was hoping for.
While the Left has assiduously worked for the formation of a non-Congress, non-BJP alternative secular government which can bring about a radical shift in the policy trajectory in the country, it is clear that a new alignment of parties that will form the government is bound to take place after these elections, as has been the case in 1996, 1998 and 2004.
Whichever government assumes office, it has to, by necessity, urgently tackle the economic situation in order to provide relief to the people. If the new government refuses to do this, or, is simply incapable of meeting this challenge through adequate policy measures, then the popular struggles must be intensified to make the government act in the interests of the country and the people.