Electioneering and Governance: Missing the trees for wood

VK Bahuguna

(The author is a former civil servant) 

Indian hoi polloi all over is busy in electing their representatives for the 17th Lok Sabha and all the political parties and their fronts are hoping to capture power on 23rd May the day ballots will be opened. However, compared to what was the electioneering several decades ago the election campaign today is its lowest in terms of civility and contents for governance. The general perception among people is political parties are missing the bigger picture and too much focused on hurling allegations and counter allegations of no relevance. In a democracy people vote for the policies and programmes of the parties and the work done by the candidates in public life for the people. Most of the political leaders have forgotten their manifestos and are harping on issues best considered undemocratic and at best tendentious personal attacks. If we see the media reports of month long electioneering except putting barbs at each other's mouth no visible agenda of governance has be put across before the masses by the opposition. The recent Fani cyclone devastated the entire Orissa where it is reported that one million trees alone have been destroyed and blown away in the State capital Bhubaneswar. The destruction of property in other parts have been massive and is still being assessed. Thanks to the correct forecast by the Indian Meteorological Department the loss of human life was prevented as very few death were reported as the State had timely shifted 10 lakh people to safer places. But the loss of wild life and cattle must have been enormous. This cyclone was an untimely occurrence as such cyclones come normally after the Mansoon. It reflects the climate change overtaking things which are beyond human control and is a reminder to the people in power to tackle environmental issues on priority. The Orissa had lost a major infrastructure along the country side as large number of electricity poles have been raised to ground by the Fani cyclone. The speed of this cyclone was 175 to 200 Km and it cannot be designated as super cyclone the speed of which is around 250 km per hour and which may visit us. The visit of Prime Minister to the cyclone affected areas in the midst of election campaign and his interaction with Orissa Chief Minister Navin Patnaik has however, shown a little bonhomie between the two warring political forces. The damage situation in the rural areas is still being assessed and it was first time after declaration of Lok Sabha elections, that a ruling party Prime Minister was greeted and welcomed by the opposition ruling State Chief Minister, though both were fighting the election against each other. 

Against this is the example West Bengal, where the Chief Minister did not pick the phone of Prime Minister and said that she does not recognize him as the Prime Minister for now. The Kolkata police whisked away a VIP passenger and prevented the custom authorities to discharge their duties. The aftermath of Fani and such clashes between the centre and state forces are the issues which will have to be dealt with in right earnest to avoid further inefficient governance. 
One of the reasons for vitriolic electioneering is the fact that this election has been reduced as a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a person and the leader of the country and the election process is almost witnessing a Presidential mode campaign rather than on a pattern of multi party west minister style parliamentary democracy. The manifestoes have been buried deep down to be opened if at all in future and all rallies are for and against Modi. In the entire process the opposition has been harping on Rafale deal and declaring the Prime Minister as Chor (Thief) and in return the Prime Minister has been digging into the past follies of the congress regime. This writer has been closely monitoring the pulse of the people and it is being realized by the public that the campaign is not in good taste at all. It appears that the voters are rallying towards ruling dispensation in the Centre specially in the West-Bengal, Orissa, UP, MP and other States like Karnataka etc as the Prime Minister had succeeded in convincing the people about his strong government and taking action against Pakistan sponsored terrorist. It however, a million dollar question if the regional and caste factors have been breached specially in UP and the regional aspirations in West Bengal, Tamils Nadu and other states. The second reason why ruling NDA is getting support is the fact that only NDA is contesting in all seats. None of the others Mahagathbandhan and Congress are contesting for reaching the magic figure of 272 seats. The people are eagerly waiting for the 23rd May when the things will be crystal clear and people will know who had succeeded in cornering whom in capturing power at the centre. The mood of the people is for a government which thinks about its youth, farmers, meeting the basic needs of downtrodden sections of the society, environment, clean and safer technology for meeting industrial needs and with a sound defense and peaceful law and order situation. 

Whatever is the result of this year's Parliament election the country must brash up for governance for the next five years. This author would like to flag a few subjects for the new government. The first subject is to factor the environmental concerns as a core segment of our developmental policies. The changing dimensions of climate change impacts being faced call for thorough restructuring of our planning process. India has pledged to ensure Millennium Development goals and the foremost thing from the point of Indian situation is to reduce poverty and ensure ecological security. This emphasis on environment however, does not mean that development process should be sacrificed, it means striking a balance, going for innovative ideas and bringing superior technology. In this regards though the country is progressing well in meeting the Paris commitment on climate change, we need lot of synergy and coherence in our developmental activities. We need to ensure development of tribal areas on priority along with the other 170,000 villages situated in and around 32 million ha of forests. The management of forests should focus on water conservation to recharge our acquirers, ensure water flow in our rain fed rivers and promote biodiversity both in forests and agriculture fields. The second, issue relates to enhancing the agriculture productivity and diversifying the income of farmers from animal husbandry and other primary sectors resources. The disaster management programmed must have a portfolio for natural resources management. The new government must take the issue of decentralization and de-bureaucratize the systems of governance; bring far-reaching changes in the education sector and making available affordable health to all. On the issue of defense a mechanism is to be devised where there is no scope of any allegations and to safeguard the interests and integrity of armed forces. Last but not the least festering Kashmir issue also need to be handled with care but firmly and decisively. Rest is in the womb of future.

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