Monday, December 09, 2013

Poll Analysis: The 'Master Politics' Of 'Clear Governance'

By M H Ahssan | INN Live

Something big has happened this past week. While the focus of most political analysts is on individuals, there is a need to read the bigger message behind the results of the elections in Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. The clear winner here is “governance”.

People in Delhi and Rajasthan voted overwhelmingly against the lack of governance and transparency, while those in MP and Chhattisgarh continued their belief in the governance provided by the incumbent governments. Let's look at each state and how governance, or the lack of it, affected voting.
MP is, in a way, the laboratory of the BJP's governance model after Gujarat. When the BJP came to power here in 2003, the state was a part of the BIMARU states (Bihar, MP, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh – states then considered backward). The decade-long BJP rule, especially the period after Shivraj Singh Chauhan took over as chief minister, saw huge emphasis on infrastructure development and on achieving inclusive growth with empowerment rather than sops. Be it girls' education, agricultural assistance to farmers, or training youths to become engineers on government projects, most of Shivraj Singh's policies have been on empowerment. His humility and transparency add to his charm and popularity amongst the people. He is possibly one of the few CMs who doesn't promise freebies. Yet, the people of MP don't seem to mind that. The win of politics of empowerment is the story of MP.

Completely in contrast to this is the case of Rajasthan. The Congress government in this state was a status quo government for the initial three and half years. Only later did they feel the need to do something. In true feudal tradition of Congress governments, they fell back on sops. Free medicines, laptops, grains and more. All these without a well thought out delivery system. Slowly, Rajasthan looked like a freebie state. Still, the Congress government was not just voted out but totally decimated. Two less seats and they might have lost even opposition status in the assembly; a clear sign that voters are unforgiving if you don't have any kind of governance for the first few years and later try to bribe them in the election year with freebies. It might have worked earlier, but this is new aspirational and unforgiving India.

One may argue that the BJP won in Chhattisgarh in spite of giving sops. The answer is that Raman Singh didn't rely on freebies only in the election year and never used them as just a card. If his government spoke of food security, he also ensured a working, non-corrupt public distribution system (PDS) which even the Supreme Court applauded. If a state's residents need entitlements, it has to be backed by an efficient and transparent delivery mechanism, and Chhattisgarh proves that. Raman Singh's win assumed greater significance considering the emotionally charged political climate in Chhattisgarh after many top Congress leaders were killed by Naxals. It was very easy for this election to be fought on an emotive plank rather than governance. The Congress tried hard to raise emotions. But the people overwhelmingly set their own agenda as governance. For a Naxal-infested state, this is a big achievement.

Finally the smallest state but one which gets maximum coverage – Delhi. Sheila Dikshit's fifteen-year-long rule ended in the Congress being routed and a personal defeat for the CM. The message coming from Delhi is that political arrogance has not gone well with the voters, nor has the non-transparent manner in which Delhi was governed. The emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is a message to established parties that citizens want a pie of the governance and will no longer run shy of just being part of the political system. This works as a check on the existing parties.

But it's easy to talk about 'corruption of power' when one has no power in hand. The true test of character comes when you retain your integrity while in power. That is the biggest challenge to the AAP. It's failure in this challenge can seriously damage the faith of many urban voters, while its success can give politics a new paradigm.

The outcome of the Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Delhi assembly elections suggests an overwhelming national wave that augurs ill for the battered Congress party in the 2014 general elections. At the same time perceiving the crucial poll verdicts as a national surge in favour of the BJP led by Narendra Modi  would be foolhardy; the phenomenal performance of the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi and the nail-biting finish in Chhattisgarh would question such a simplistic political assumption.

This winter’s assembly elections have signalled the emergence of the AAP as a credible alternative political experiment. Born out of a popular anti-corruption movement, the AAP should be remembered for its novel promise of transacting alternative politics and the  revolutionary changes it has brought to the entire process of electioneering. The feasibility of online reporting of donations, funding and managing low-cost campaigning, and sticking to the Election Commission norms on election expenses have been demonstrated to the country by this extraordinary d├ębutante.

The BJP can rightly celebrate the Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh results. To portray these victories as proof of a “Modi-wave” however would tantamount to ignoring key local factors. The Congress had no credible answer to Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s developmental record and his long-running welfare schemes in MP other than parachuting Jyotiraditya Scindia into the heat of the election campaign and hoping his charisma rubbed off on voters. In Rajasthan, Ashok Gehlot unveiled many welfare schemes, but all were poorly implemented. The Congress should be worried that it has not only lost states where it has ruled, but also failed in performing as an effective opposition in BJP-ruled states.

Where Narendra Modi has played his part was to fire up morale among the BJP cadre and guide the central leadership. In contrast, Rahul’s leadership has enthused neither party cadre, nor citizens. The Congress’ attempts to shield Rahul from blame for the four setbacks will rebound on both Rahul and the party. In the candid admission of failures and the acceptance of defeat, may lie the seeds of the  Congress’s political resurgence.

The assembly poll drubbing shows up the long standing fault lines within the Congress. On the one hand, the party has been battling severe corruption charges one after another, compounded further by the rising food prices and continued confusion over economic policies. On the other, obsessed with dynastic leadership, the party has ignored the imperative necessity of nurturing regional leaders — a job done well by the BJP.

Politics is essentially about popular perception. The ruling Congress, in power at the Centre for nearly a decade, seems to have lost much ground on this score. In recent months, the Congress has unleashed a basket of welfare schemes to supplement existing ones, hoping to endear itself to voters at the eleventh hour. There is however no clarity about whether the implementation of these hurriedly pushed-through schemes will reach the intended beneficiaries. The wave against the Congress is for real. We have known this for over two years now.

The phenomenal performance by the AAP indicates the space that exists for a non-Congress, non-BJP political alternative. True, the AAP may find it difficult to replicate the Delhi experiment nationally. But a significant message has gone out from the Capital’s heart. The trumping of the veteran Congress politician and three-term chief minister Sheila Dikshit by Kejriwal, a greenhorn in electoral politics, could well suggest the onset of a different electoral process. The electorate is clearly seeking greater accountability and transparency from the political class. This is where AAP — being untried and untested in power — has a clear advantage.  The Congress will need to do some serious self introspection to recover from the tremendous loss of credibility suffered in this crucial round of elections.

One more interesting aspect of these elections was the way some local dynasts lost. If this is a trend and not just an aberration, then it is a great beginning to end the feudal arrogance in our political system.

The larger message of the polls is that Indians now aspire for a better living. They no longer want freebies or promises of freebies. They prefer systems which empower and which are transparent and open to change. The voter is both unforgiving and loving, depending on only one thing: the quality of governance provided. 

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