In the recent assembly elections, BJP retained power in Gujarat and in Himachal Pradesh, it captured power from Congress.
The corporate-owned media has analysed election results threadbare to prove that they reflect the will of the people. They say that though the BJP won in Gujarat, the reduced number of seats reflect the dissatisfaction of the people on its performance. In Himachal, the analysis is that the ruling and opposition party change positions every year and this reflects that people have a choice to elect a government of their liking. Is it true that the will of the people determines which party is given the mandate to rule a state for the next 5 years?
From day one, the corporate media made sure that only two choices are put before the people in the election campaign — BJP or Congress. They regularly reported on the prospects of the two parties based on the charisma of their leaders or the size of their vote banks based on caste or religion or region. They organised TV debates and carried editorials where only the two parties were presented as capable of ruling the states. Through opinion polls organised at strategic intervals, the contest is reduced to that between two parties.
On their part, the leaders and candidates of the two principal parties of the Indian ruling establishment played upto the gallery. In the most cynical way they depoliticized the electorate by letting loose a barrage of slanders and counter-slanders against each other. They carefully avoided addressing the real issues of people. In the most despicable way, they appealed to the most repulsive communal and caste sentiments and attempted to divide the polity on these lines. Using money and muscle power they edged out any other serious contender in elections, supported by political parties and people’s organisations interested in the well-being of people and in solving the most urgent problems facing the people.
The people of Gujarat have been facing serious issues. The youth of Gujarat have been fighting against growing unemployment and privatization of education. Farmers in Gujarat have been reeling under continuous spells of drought and driven to destitution and ruin. They have been demanding a universal public distribution system which ensures agricultural inputs at affordable prices and procurement of all agricultural products by the government at remunerative prices. Workers in export-driven industries such as gem cutting have been kicked out of their employment or made into a contract labourer due to the global economic crisis and slowing down of the Indian economy. Migrant workers in these industries from other states such as Bihar and Rajasthan have been demanding regularization of wages and an end to contract labour. But the “sabre rattling” propaganda of the leaders of BJP and Congress skirted these issues. The BJP lied through its teeth and claimed that demonetization and GST have done good for the people. In their “high voltage” election rallies Modi and state level leaders covered up the fact that during the last 22 years of BJP rule, it is the big corporate houses who have gained at the expense of the vast majority of people in the state. The Congress, while posing as the saviour of people forgot to mention the multi-billion dollar scams over which it presided. Both the parties hid the fact that they were the one who periodically organised communal massacres to divide and rule the people.
In Himachal Pradesh, the BJP used the same duplicity and presented itself as a party concerned about development, improving job prospects and rooting out corruption. It blamed the Congress Party for all the problems facing the people.
The fact that these two criminal and communal parties were the only ones offered as choices for the Gujarat electorate shows that it is not the will of people which prevails in elections. It is the will of corporate business houses and their choice of parties which determine winners and losers.
Voter turnout in Gujarat actually dipped from last year to 68.4%. The BJP’s vote share of this was 49.1%. This actually works out to just 33.6% of the total electorate.
More than 5.5 lakh voters rejected all candidates by voting for None of the Above (NOTA). This is a considerable number and reflects the disgust of voters towards the criminalization and communalization of politics. But all this did not matter in the final selection of the winning party.
People have practically no role in selecting the candidates for election. It is political parties and their respective leadership which select the candidates.
The role of the people in the existing system is generally limited to casting a vote for one among candidates selected by parties of the establishment. Once they cast their vote, the people have no role whatsoever. No matter how loudly they protest on the streets, the government does not fulfil their demands.
The party which garners the largest number of votes, irrespective of whether it gets majority votes or not, forms the government. According to our Constitution, decision making power, that is sovereignty, rests in the hands of the executive, more specifically the Cabinet, proposed by the ruling party. The Cabinet with the Prime Minister at the head, decides all matters of government. Once elections are over, this executive power is not answerable to the elected legislative body for any policy decision. The elected members of parliament or of a state legislative assembly are not answerable to those who elected them.
In theory, the existing political process permits candidates of political parties and independent candidates to contest elections. In practice, the contest is extremely uneven due to the domination of big money power and the extremely unequal space provided in the media in favour of the parties of the status quo as the Gujarat and Himachal elections proved beyond doubt.
While people are led to believe that they can dethrone a party if it does not perform and install another party in its place, in reality the choice is between two or a few parties of the establishment. There is not even a wafer of difference between these parties, when it comes to where their loyalty lies. The Congress is promoted as a secular party and the BJP is touted as communal but a party upholding Indian values. But in the final count they both serve the big monopoly houses who fund their elections, while pretending to be people’s representatives.
No doubt people have the right to vote. But beyond that they are completely marginalized from decision making. The mere fact that elections are held periodically and governments are pulled down does not mean that people are empowered. Genuine empowerment of people will happen only when the existing political process is thoroughly transformed.
Candidates for people’s representatives must be selected by the people themselves, and not by any political party.
The people, organised in unions and associations at workplaces and college campuses, committees in villages and urban residential localities, should select candidates whom they regard as most capable of representing their interests. Candidates nominated by political parties, and especially those of the “recognised” parties, must be stripped of the privileges they currently enjoy. They must be forced to submit to the same process of people’s selection to which all nominated candidates have to submit. The State must fund the selection and election process. All other financing must be banned.
Those elected must be accountable for all their actions and the people should have the right to recall any of them. People should have the right to initiate legislation and policy measures in their interests, which today is the exclusive privilege of the executive. The electorate must not hand over all its powers to their representatives.
The current political process and electoral system, though advertised as the pillars of democracy, far from empowering people, actually keep them away from decision making. For people to come to the centre-stage of the political process and run the affairs of the country, we need a new political process which vests sovereignty in the hands of people.
By our Delhi Correspondent