Elections to five state assemblies in Punjab, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Manipur and Goa are taking place at a time when people in these states are facing major problems. But none of the political parties seem to be paying even lip service to these problems.
In an interview to a daily, a debt-ridden farmer in Punjab says that he is fed up with empty words and too-good-to-be-true promises that are being made by the Congress and Akali Dal. “it hardly matters who wins or loses. They are all the same. We have to fight our battle for our survival on our own”, he continues.
Punjab , the grain bowl of India, is in crisis. The indebted farmers of Punjab have been demanding major structural changes to agricultural policy and investments in the state. Lakhs of Punjabi men and women who have migrated to foreign lands faced with bleak livelihood prospects in India, have to encounter political and religious persecution abroad every day. Even today, so many years after independence, Punjab cannot boast of a decent large-scale industry. And till now, those who were responsible for the killing and maiming of thousands of Punjabi youth after Operation Bluestar by the agencies of the state have not been punished. None of these issues are being addressed by the Congress, BJP or Akali Dal. The people of Punjab are neither enthused about the “third front” called the Sanjha Morcha – an alliance of the People’s Party of Punjab, the CPI and the CPI(M). The reason – this front is really not an alternative considering that they have fielded rebels from other major parties, and the parties constituting the front are as cynical about the issues facing the people, as those whom they oppose.
In Uttarakhand, the two major contending parties – the Congress and BJP – have been trying to skirt major issues facing the people by blaming each other as communal and anti-development. The BJP has been justifying the fact that it has not been able to deliver anything that it promised the people when it came to power, by blaming the “discriminatory” attitude of the Congress-led central government. The Congress, in turn, has been attacking the BJP government as a corrupt government, particularly targeting the Pokhriyal government, predecessor of the present Khanduri government, which was embroiled in a slew of corruption charges. Major issues such as migration due to lack of livelihood, slow pace of industrial development, rising unemployment and other issues continue to haunt the people of this state.
In both Punjab and Uttarakhand the Congress believes that the anti-incumbency factor will work in its favour. But the people have no illusions. They are only too painfully aware that it is during the rule of the UPA government at the centre that mega scams such as the 2G scam, the Commonwealth games scam, the Adarsh Housing Society scam and others have taken place. They are also fully aware that the Congress and BJP will take no steps to root out the source of corruption -- the drive of the big multinationals, financial oligopolies and big business houses to earn maximum profit, as became evident through their devious attempts to prevent the legislation of an effective anti-corruption Bill during the winter session of Parliament.
The elections in UP are being held in the midst of the murderous NRHM scam, involving the pilfering of Rs 5700 crores of public money. Various parties contending for power in this state – the Congress, BJP, SP and BSP – have been accusing each other of criminalization, communalization, corruption and other ills while being very much a part of the existing system.
In Manipur, elections are being held under the dark shadow of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act which gives the right to the central government to deny people their democratic and national rights and shoot citizens under the flimsiest pretext.
In Goa, the BJP is trying to take advantage of the disgust of the people with the present Congress-led regime and come to power. The Digambar Kamat government is embroiled in a massive mining scam and flouting of environmental regulations. But the people of Goa can see through the farce of BJP, whose own government in Karnataka has been accused of similar violations and scams. Like their brethren in other states, the people of Goa have been demanding an end to inflation, unemployment, corruption, elimination of the mining mafia and a decent living for all.
The anguish of the Punjab farmer is not his alone. The people of these states which are going to the polls have very little to choose between these political parties who have all acted against the interests of the people and strived might and main to preserve the existing political process where people have no say in decision-making except to choose between a set of criminals.
How else can one view the election process, when none of these political parties have any solution to the myriad problems facing the people? To take one instance, a recent nation-wide survey on nutrition came up with the shocking finding that 60% of the children in the country under five are stunted. The Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, while releasing the report of this survey, proclaimed that this is a national shame, implying that the entire nation has to blame for it and not his government. Neither the Congress nor the BJP, who are leading the major political fronts in the country, have acknowledged this terrible situation as the inevitable consequence of the drive for maximum profits of the big business houses and monopolies, depriving people of even basic minimum needs to survive and lead a life of dignity.
Voters have very little to choose between the political fronts led by the Congress and BJP. The voters have no outlet in the present political system of parliamentary representative democracy to express their anger other than voting against the incumbent party and electing to power one of the opposition parties. The present political system completely marginalizes the people from political power. The only role that people have in this system is to turn up at the polling booth on election day and choose their representative from a rogue’s gallery. This system has no relevance today for the vast majority of people. Various election reforms that the Election Commission has been implementing such as imposing a ceiling on election expenses, auditing the expenses of candidates, preventing governments from declaring freebies during election time, and so on are being seen as desperate attempts to restore some credibility to a system that is being increasingly exposed as an instrument in the hands of the ruling class to keep the people away from political power.
The people need a political process and system where they can select and elect their representatives, where money and muscle power and the domination of the political parties of the rich have been completely eliminated, where people have the right to recall their elected representatives if they so desire, and where they have the right to initiate legislation and express their voice on important legislation and policies.
Can we believe that the political parties of the rich have any stake in fighting for and creating this new political process and system? Certainly not! Because such as system will strike at the very roots of corruption, it will end their monopoly over the existing political process, it will end the marginalization of people and make the representatives accountable to the people who elect them. It is the people who can create the new political system and process based on direct democracy, by organizing themselves into samitis in each and every mohalla, village and workplace, and by establishing lok raj where people play a central role in running the day-to-day affairs of the country.