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PARTIES IN A QUANDARY

Voter Wish List

By Shivaji Sarkar

 

The election process has begun. People’s aspirations are soaring. A lot, says the government, has been done, but many more people want to be taken care of. They want a bonanza, putting political parties in a quandary.

 

The wish-list of the people is long and expensive. But are the political parties aware of it or not, is the big question. They thus have a problem, as people are tightlipped.

 

The political mud-slinging would heat up the poll arena but whether these would be vote getters nobody is sure. Voters are silent listeners and apply their own logic to accept or reject the charges– some real, some imaginary and some out of the blue. Will any of these stick?

 

Another problem that would have its impact on the polling scenario is just not the national issues but regional and local desires. Election is game time. Voters are not bothered about the jurisdiction. If their comfort has not been taken care of, the elected representative to the local bodies to Parliament are held responsible.

 

Due to lack of a national issue, except ‘nationalism’ and ‘military honours’, regional and sub-local issues might play a role that party leaders may not have even considered. Let us take the issue of roads. These are being constructed and entailing huge budgets. It is also burdening people with huge costs in tolls and raking up never heard questions. People have now started questioning why a road should cost beyond the estimates of the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI).

 

They wonder why the national highways and even some expressways are not as good as these are claimed to be. They are also questioning why connecting roads built by the State governments are in a state of dilapidation. Even the toll roads are far below standards. Should people have to shell out extra to get the basic?

 

The ruling party has claimed that these past five years have been different. Over 19 crore have got ration cards, 22 crore LPG connection, eight crore false cards and connections detected, 34.7 crore Janadhan accounts have benefited the poor, 27,5 crore have debit cards and of these 18 crore are women; MUDRA loans of Rs 50,000 to Rs 10 lakh have helped 15 crore people and 70 per cent of them are women; 50 per cent villages are digitally connected and roads link up 91 per cent villages.

 

It is an impressive data. The Opposition has not yet started firing its salvos. But they do not agree with all the claims. The Congress and Samajwadi Party have said it is they that had started many of these programmes and the BJP has only carried these forward.

 

The BJP says it has taken benefits to the grassroots and in a graft-free environment. Farmers they add, have been given 1.5 times of the cost as minimum support price and 14 crore soil health cards issued. Their claim is not wrong. To top competitive politics, the BJP has announced minimum income guarantee of Rs 6,000 to farmer even as the Congress, TRS and other parties have been showering them with loan waivers.

 

Is the poll scenario on an even keel? Apparently on granting benefits most probably all are at one level, even the BJD in Orissa, the TRS in Telangana, the TDP in Andhra and the TMC in West Bengal. This makes the job of the voters more difficult. They have one vote each and cannot please all.

 

The economy and developmental issues thus may not become vote-clinching issues. There can be acrimony. The BJP says it has taken the benefit to all without any discrimination. The BSP, SP and some other parties may have done it selectively. 

 

Is corruption an issue? It is but not at the level it was in 2014. Graft and Ram temple have become far softer issue or the barbs are hitting all. The election, despite pan-national approach, is to be fought on clans, classes, castes, religious groupings.

 

Economy and development may be a concern but parochial group interests always sway the minds. Democracy is a game of numbers and promotes groups. There are groups within party folds. Frequent induction from other parties by almost all is causing internal dissent. These may look miniscule. But it affects the outcome, morale of party workers.

 

And yes, jobs, farm-related classes’ distress, high cost of education, rising inflation even at a slow pace are real issues. The ruling BJP can take solace that the Opposition has not yet been able to corner it. The Mahagathbandhan is still emerging. In Uttar Pradesh, the SP-BSP may look formidable. But there is a third element — Congress. With Priyanka Gandhi entering the fray and softly cajoling and reassuring the people, it can make a change in electoral arithmetic. If Congress does even a little better, its tally, according to observers, can swell.

 

The Congress’ approach this time is soft, persuasive attack. It also is trying to develop an emotional connect with the people against the BJP’s high patriotic emotional sentiments backed with extolling the uniformed people. Who is that going to benefit? The BJP or SP and BSP or loose State-wise opposition alliance. The answers are not easy today.

 

The BJP is trying to unify the voters on pan-national sentiments. Its stress is on ideology, culture and creating friends across the border. These impress people, but this time it would be a test for getting votes. Had it made the income-tax more realistic, its problem with GST could have been solved.

 

Would not budgetary benefits given to the people be an issue? To some extent all the benefits that the government has announced will be. The most forceful would be a battle on the rural arena about guaranteeing income of the people.

 

One solace for the BJP is that the Opposition still does not look to be a unified force to match aggression and sharp attack of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But the scenario may change if the Opposition suddenly starts sprinting. Whatever it may be, the General Election this time is more complex with both the ruling party and the Opposition gasping to get a grip over the issues. In the end, it will be the voter, who will decide on many unseen aspects and what he considers best for his well-being.—INFA

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