Another parliament election is over in India. Seventeenth Lok Sabha will soon start its function. Political analysts have provided the analysis of elections, results and candidates. However, in general, they forget to write about two important players: Voters and babus (yes, babus).
Indian voters have shown remarkable maturity and rejected promises of quotas, freebies and guaranteed minimum income. The healthy nation did not need and rejected Khichdi and thus avoided chaos which would have followed if local lords had won. The Election Commission and Bureaucrats (‘Babus”) all over the Country planned a long and complex election process. Not only their planning was meticulous, it was successfully conducted. They showed a great patience and ignored all kind of accusations. In view of the number of voters, long distances and inaccessibility, a successful and peaceful election process is a vibrant and living wonder of the world.
Since the very first elections, frequently a number of factors such as castes, money, liquor and other trivial factors have been mentioned as affecting Indian elections. However, in depth analysis of elections show that in general, before casting votes, voters have evaluated the issues, candidates and the prevailing situation especially in the national elections. In the first few years, it was natural that the Congress Party, with its role in the freedom struggle and unparalleled leaders dominated elections both at the center and states.
As the elected governments started failing people's aspirations, voters started getting disillusioned with elected politicians. Even during the period of mainly unchallenged leadership of Pundit Nehru, his hold in some states became shaky. Uttar Pradesh, the Congress stronghold, where from most of the prominent Congress leaders came, became one of the first states, where a non-Congress leader Charan Singh became the Chief Minister.
First real large scale voters' maturity test came in 1977 when Indira Gandhi lifted the infamous Emergency and held Lok Sabha elections with the hope that she and her party would get a massive mandate. Voters had different idea; they had felt suffocated during the period when civil rights were suspended and freedom of speech was banned. People appreciated personal freedom more than the alleged discipline in the government offices. Voters thrashed the Congress party which lost heavily. This was the first time, a sitting Prime Minister and her son also lost election. A large number of babus did not cooperate with the government and assured a fair election.
For the first time, a non-Congress government came to power in the center. Everyone was stunned with the results. Since that election, no one in whole India could claim that he/she would definitely win the election, a great sign of the strength of democracy.
The recent Indian election proves the maturity of Indian voters beyond any doubt. Ir-respective of caste, religion, education and economic level, people voted for development, and a strong and stable government. In view of Mahagathbandhan in UP, it was unthinkable that BJP would sweep out SP-BSP. After voters threw out the well entrenched BJP governments in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhatisgarh and a very good performance by Congress in Gujarat state elections, no one imagined that in the national elections, Congress would be mostly swept out of these states. Similarly, RJD won the most seats in the last assembly election in Bihar, it did not get any seat now. Indian voters were unsatisfied with the incumbent state governments, but at the national level, they did not want any hodge-podge government fighting for the ministerships and their cronies..
Now coming to Babus. In spite of inefficiency and corruption, the basic government institutions work well. Elections in India could not be conducted smoothly without the hard work and integrity of the Election Commission. The logistics of holding parliament elections is mind boggling. Arranging elections for 900 million voters is a massive task. Indian law requires that no one need to travel more than two kilometers in order to vote. Thus, polling booths have to be located almost everywhere even in remote locations many of which are not connected with any road or railways. There was a polling station at the height of 15,256 ft., the highest in the world with only 49 voters. Voting machines and voter lists have to be carried to some places by horses, mules, elephants, camels, yaks, boats and even on the backs of human beings. Unperturbed by the allegations from losers that EVMs are tampered, Election Commission sticks with its plans and functioning.
In spite of six week long election process, the last elections had the highest voting percentage, about 67.5% and the most peaceful. In 2014 elections, 16 people were killed and about 2,000 injured. In the 2019 election, only one person was killed and less than 100 injured. Hats off to EC Babus who created a great wonder. Without them, such rare achievement in the election process would have not been possible.
In the end, I cannot resist providing some election statistics. In addition to the most peaceful election and highest voting percentage, the seventeenth Lok Sabha will have 324 new MPs, reflecting highest turnover, and 78 women MPs, highest number (still a long way to go). In spite of frequent allegations of BJP being an urban and a high caste Hindu party, BJP won more seats in the rural India (123 out of 252), in constituencies with Muslim majority (16 out of 52) and reserved constituencies (53 out of 84) than any other party.
This election does create a great optimism rightfully for the country's progress, however, there is a serious concern also. Congress, the only other national party, is in shambles. While BJP will continue to get fresh cadres and leaders from RSS, no other party has this resource. Earlier Congress party created cadres by going to each corner and rural area of the country. Now all of the opposition parties are confined to drawing rooms. Rahul Gandhi is not capable of running a national party, nor should he be forced to do so. A strong opposition is a very essential part of a sound democracy. Therefore, the Congress Party has to survive. The only way it can happen if all the breakaways from the Congress Party, such as TMC, NCP, JDS and others get together again to run the Congress Party.
Hopefully, India will fulfill Modi's message Sabka Saath (everyone's cooperation); Sabka Vikas (economic progress for everyone); and Sabka Vishwas (everyone's trust).
Jitendra K. Tuli was an advisor to former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.