The election season gets hotter. After all it is the largest democracy in the world, going through the largest election process. With mind-boggling numbers, which can keep statisticians busy for the next five years, when it will be time for the next election. Unless, we have a mid-term!
Now that Manmohan Singh is in an unusually aggressive and outspoken mood, Advani sounds tame. It’s surprising to see politicians of their stature trading charges. While both are critical of each other’s policies and idealogies or lack of it, response and counter-response is normally not expected. But then, this is election time and the media is trying to spice up headlines by seeking these responses. BJP is spending humongous amounts on ads, internet or tv as well as leaflets, prints and what have you. However, the only thrust in the campaign is a face. BJP is marketing Advani. A fine example of personality dominance in this election.
What is remarkable about Election 2009 is the role of the media – the tv channels are airing everything from antics, accusations to live tv debates. However, it is sad to see debates on frivolous issues , which then becomes a war of words. If both perties were asked questions related to policies and plans, then the debates would be more influential. Instead it becomes an hour of entertainment as each politician tries to outshine the other.
In Maharashtra, the votebanks are very fluid this time. MNS has become a stronger force and has eroded into Shiv Sena’s votebank like never before. Shiv Sena has become less rightist and is veering towards a party for the affluent Marathi populace, while the MNS is making an impact at a the lower and middle strata of society. People who are still rooted deeply in the marathi culture and have not developed a national outlook, let alone international. The reason that MNS is successful is not just because of the Thackeray factor. But because it has understood the mood of the local marathi people. The second reason is, that it has simply used the local party structure of the Shiv Sena. The Shiv Sena set up local committees in every ‘area’ – local ‘shahkha’ or a branch. It created a huge base at the grassroots. If you have a marathi maid working for you , she will be bound to take a monthly holiday on a Sunday. The reason she will give you is, that she is required to attend a meeting. This meeting is the point of contact for these parties. The people meet to vent their grievances, like complain about the boss who is rude to the marathis or the lady who has invited guests from Bihar and is giving them things!! Or the outstation students who have now got well paid jobs, immediately after exams. Issues such as medical aid, cooking gas and electricity or lack of it, are also discussed. These are the meetings where future strategy on protests is set. Grievances are noted and conveyed by the shahkha in-charge to their higher ups. Party policies are then decided on these issues. Mind you, these meetings are aimed at resolving issues. But very often they just become an information gathering network. They rarely lead to balanced solutions due to lack of effective or mature leadership at this level. At this level, they have the yes -men of the party. This is a structure which should be used positively, as it is a very democratic strucutre. But when misused, it can create frustrations and hatred, leading to extortions and riots.
One question that becomes difficult to answer in a multi-party democracy is whether the number of political parties should be limited. Indians have long given up the hope of having a single party government. Hung assemblies and coalitions rule the roost, leading to huge compromises on issues. Coalition politics is the dirtiest politics ever witnessed. It shows the naked desire for the poor being played out in a very undignified manner. Only an experienced and an intelligent leadership can manage a coalition government. But it is better to have independents than have too many parties. It confuses the voter, divides the votebank and makes decisions tougher all round.
On a lighter note, should shoes be banned in all meetings?
The Iraqi journalist who threw a shoe at Bush had no idea about the trend that he set. In India, that is. Politicians will have to be trained to wield shoe attacks. Take the case of the villager – he just vented his frustration at the empty words that he heard from Jindal, the local representative. It is representative of the disconnect between people and leadership. The next shoe might be hurled at a corporate meeting. Perhaps, all future gatherings should ask for people to leave their shoes outside – maybe its not possible in public meetings. But it is possible in smaller indoor forums, like a press conference. It is the rule at a temple and even some shops and houses, to take off shoes before you enter. It is a mark of respect, precisely what is needed at such meetings. And lacking when the shoe is hurled.