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Issues In elections

Issues In elections

By the time this column is published, there will hardly be a day or two left for the kick off to the first phase of the Lok Sabha elections. In another 45 days, we will know who will be our next Prime Minister. Amidst this war of words, electoral jibes and political rallies and addresses, what we have actually missed out is the common man.

The other day this writer was watching a chai pe charcha being telecast by a news channel. The reporter was using the local slang to speak to the people, to get as much close as he could to the general public, in one of the locations in Bihar. 

After all, language is the key to closeness. The channel had made puppets of both Rahul Gandhi and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, showing them as the only contenders for the post of prime minister in the ongoing elections.

To give you an idea about the general opinion, most of the people liked the current prime minister. But when the reporter asked what he did for the general public, a majority of the people, said “desh ke liye bahut kuch kiya hai” (He worked for the nation). 

Clearly, the person did not know what to say but it speaks about the general perception that Modi has created. The reporter, smart as he was, asked, did you get Rs. 15 lakh that Modi promised? Pat came the reply, “ pandrah lakh nhi aya to kya hua, desh ke jawaano ki baat sune hai” (it doesn’t matter whether Rs. 15 lakh came or not, he worked for the armed forces) in typical Bihari slang.  

Another said, “Modi has improved the country’s image internationally”.  What seemed missing from the debate or discussion was the agenda of development. None of them, either the reporter or anyone from the general public, spoke about what actually is needed from the next government.

In this heightened debate about national security, we have lost the actual agenda, for which a government is elected. The issue of development seems to have lost in favour of issues affecting national security, thanks to the Pulwama attack and the consequent air strike in Pakistan. 

Never before have we seen an election being fought on a matter like defence or national security. Until, a few days ago, even the opposition had no issue to speak about except the Rafale deal in its election rallies.

The recently released Congress manifesto, too mentions about an amendment in the Armed Forces Special Protection Act. Of course, it speaks about the much-touted scheme “Nyuntam aay Yojana (NYAY) as well. But the fact that Armed forces, too, finds a mention shows that it also wants to project itself as a party, which keeps the national security, as its top-most priority.

Be that as it may, a report published by the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR), an NGO formed by a few professors of IIM in 1999, speaks aloud about the development work that has been carried out during the last five years. In a survey carried out during October-December 2018, people ranked the Modi government as “below average” on issues affecting the common man. Close to 3 lakh people participated in the survey conducted in 534 Lok Sabha constituencies.

The survey had many parts and the respondents had to select items which, they thought, needed the top-most priority. This was to gauge the government’s performance. 

Out of 31 items, three top-most priorities were – better employment opportunities, better hospitals/primary health centres and drinking water. It is unfortunate that people are still struggling for potable drinking water, something so crucial for a better life in most of the urban and rural areas that were surveyed.

And how has the government fared on these three priorities? Unfortunately, the performance of the current government was rated as below average on all the three parameters. 

Next to drinking water, the voters want better roads and better public transport. And one of the achievements that the government has been boasting about is the speed with which road transport has been expanded. Unfortunately, as per All India Survey, 2018, the government’s performance has again been consistently below average.    

After the top five priorities, people want availability of water for agriculture, agricultural loan, high price realisation for farm products and agricultural subsidy for seeds/fertilisers. This clearly indicates the level of dissatisfaction of the farmers and the farm-distress that this journal has been talking about for so long. The performance on this score has, again, been consistently below average. The last in the list of top-ten priorities is better law and order/policing. Alas, the performance remains the same.

Now, does this mean that the previous government was better than the current? The answer lies in a similar survey conducted prior to the Lok Sabha elections in 2014 by ADR with almost similar number of people and the same methodology. The findings should not be surprising as the top-five priorities were more or less the same. And the performance was below average on all the indicators for the UPA government as well.

There has been a clear shift in the next five priorities. In the 2014 survey, better schools, empowerment of women, electricity supply and subsidised food distribution were the key issues. Except for subsidised food distribution, which no longer is a priority (surprisingly though), all the other issues have gone down the list in 2019.  

The top-most priority in 2014 and 2019 was and remains the same — better employment opportunities. In other words, our young men and women, despite all the promises, remain dissatisfied. Our demographic dividend remains unutilised.  Had ADR conducted a similar survey in 2009, we might have got similar results.

It only shows that whether it is the BJP-led NDA government or the UPA-led Congress government, our elected representatives failed to understand the issues affecting the common man or failed to meet their expectations. They had either no clue to address them or lacked the will to solve these problems. Or, kept those issues under carpet for obvious reasons. And if this continues, we can easily predict the results of the survey that would be conducted in 2024.

All this means is that India Inc needs to rethink. Our system needs a complete overhauling. We as voters need to make an informed choice lest people take us for granted. Otherwise, India that is Bharat would remain the same. We may see sky-rocketing buildings in one corner, while the other may witness the struggle to have a pucca road in the same area. That kind of development is no development at all! What is mentioned is a common sight, if we consider the National Capital region as the benchmark.

Why there is a gap in learning levels of a child that goes to a government school and that of an affordable private school that spends not even half of the money that is spent by the government on the former? Why should a patient die, awaiting his turn for a surgery, in a government hospital, as he had no money to spend in a private hospital?

We as Indians have every right to question where our hard-earned money is being used. Is it actually being used to address the issues that affect our brethren? Or, is it going into someone’s pocket as indicated by the hike in the wealth of our MPs and MLAs!

(The writer, a company secretary, can be reached at jassi.rai@gmail.com )

(Published on 8th April 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 15)