Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Few Thoughts on the Indian State Elections

The media is rife with stories about maturing Indian voters "not being swayed by divisive rhetoric" purveyed by the BJP. The liberal in me likes that take, but the skeptic in me cannot help but wonder, Really?

Terror has been a given in India for a long time. Terrorists slaughtered 24 in Delhi a few weeks ago. And people must remember the horrible incidents in Modi- governed Ahmedabad (and almost in Surat) earlier this year, not to mention Guwahati, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Delhi... . These attacks in Mumbai don't change anything. The common man in India knows that. Analysts, of course, have an elitist bias - and to them the Mumbai attacks have a deeper emotional significance.

National issues in India seldom outweigh local issues. One of the rare occasions they did outweigh local issues was when the elecorate threw out Indira Gandhi's paranoid emegency. But terror is nowhere as significant as the emergency. Terror in India is little more than an unpleasant irritant - something that should certainly be dealt with - but not something that should occupy center stage when farmers are commiting sucide by the lakh.

If any national party wants to make terror a national issue in the elections, I am sure that the electorate will reject it - because it is not as significant an issue as others. Last time the BJP tried something stupid like this, it lost badly. (Remember India Shining? What a travesty that was!. When farmers on the verge of commiting suicide and the desperate poor struggling to eke out a living were informed that their nation was shining, the boot is what they got).

To me, it is not as if the electorate has developed a maturity overnight. India has always had a functioning democracy (as has been proven by the voters booting out Ms. Indira Gandhi - and rejecting the irrational "India Shining" campaign). The voters have voted for development in Delhi. Ms. Dixit is doing a great job over there. Voters appreciate the MP and Chattisgharh BJP governments - which are actually doing good work.

And that's why Modi stays in power in Gujarat. Whatever we liberals might say about him, he does have a staunch development record. The Indian voter is trying to vote his/her way out of poverty. And statistically, terror is a little too minor to scare the electorate right now.

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