By Suresh Nautiyal (Green activist, journalist and GGC Member)
IN INDIA, the 16th Lok Sabha (lower house) General Election will conclude this May 12, 2014 and the election results will be announced on May 16 about India’s next central government. The outcome is uncertain.
Whereas Indian voters feel disenchanted with the ruling United Progressive Alliance led by the Indian National Congress (INC), the main opposition National Democratic Alliance led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has not been able to turn the existing Modi Factor into a popular Modi Wave. The emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is moreover seen as a stumbling block to the BJP’s touted victory march.
As we enter the final phases of General Election 2014, lets take a brief look at India’s election process and future political possibilities.
India’s constitution requires Lok Sabha elections every five years or whenever Parliament is dissolved by the President of India on the recommendation of the Union Government. The 15th Lok Sabha election was held in April-May 2009, and its term will expire on 31 May 2014. The Upper House of Parliament is called the Rajya Sabha, or the Council of States. Lok Sabha members are elected directly by the general public, and Rajya Sabha members are elected by the state assemblies.
The Election Commission of India (ECI) organised the Lok Sabha General Election 2014 in nine phases to address the large electoral base and security concerns. Spread across five weeks, from April 7 to May 12, this 2014 General Election will be the longest and most expensive in India’s history. According to the ECI estimates, the General Election will cost the exchequer 3,500-crore or US$577 million. This amount does not include the expenses incurred on the security arrangements by the government and by individual political parties. The New Delhi-based Centre for Media Studies (CMS) estimates that the political parties are expected to spend 30,500-crore or US$5 billion in this election; three times the amount spent in the previous 2009 General Election, and is the world’s second highest following the 2012 US Presidential Election’s US$7 billion.
According to ECI data, India’s 2014 electoral population is 814.5 million, the largest in the world, and reflects an increase of 100 million newly eligible voters since the 2009 General Election. Voting must take place in all 543 parliamentary constituencies in order to elect the Lok Sabha Members of Parliament. The results of this election will be declared on 16 May, well before the Lok Sabha completes its constitutional mandate on 31 May 2014.
The 2014 Lok Sabha or General Election is expected to witness a greater turnout amongst young voters. The emergent political force AAP has invariably been able to inspire the youth to be interested in politics and seek greater political participation. And, the political participation obviously starts with exercising one’s Right to Vote. After what is being called a “lost decade” by some, India is actually entering into a period of political reform that is bound to shape a better democratic future of India.
An Assessment of India’s Leading Political Parties:
In in the Lok Sabha elections a party or an alliance will need at least 272 seats to form the next government..
Indian National Congress: The ruling Indian National Congress-led coalition has been facing intense criticism of mismanagement including corruption charges and policy paralysis which has caused economic downturn and the rising prices of goods. Just before the General Election 2014, the Congress tried to counter the opposition march by passing a Lokpal (ombudsman) Bill. To Narendra Modi’s call for a “Congress free India”, Rahul Gandhi strongly replied that the Congress was an idea that could not be wiped out.
Bharatiya Janata Party: Riding on the BJP’s success in the state elections of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Delhi, the BJP aims to form the next government under the leadership of Narendra Modi. Although a Modi Factor has benefitted the BJP in the state elections, there is however no Modi Wave across the country as the BJP has claimed. To have a better chance in forming a government at the Centre this month, the BJP will need more than 200 seats in the Lok Sabha to attract allies. With the BJP confronted by its own internal contradictions and no possibility of promoting a narrow Hindutva plank on a national scale in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious nation, the future political picture remains unclear. Another of the BJP’s biggest challenges will be to get the support of Muslim voters following the 2002 Gujarat Riots.
Aam Aadmi Party: The political equation has changed with the emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party and its success in the Delhi election under the leadership of Arvind Kejriwal and the support of Indian National Congress shows that the Modi Factor could not stop AAP from getting 28 seats in the 70-member Delhi assembly. The emergence of AAP marks a crucial phase in Indian political history. It has given the people a ray of hope that if they commit to making a collective effort for a good social cause, they can bring about a change in the system that has deteriorated with malpractices. However the success of AAP in the Lok Sabha election remains unpredictable.
Other players: The faint cries of a third front are also there but in past general elections have been weakened by competing regional parties. At the moment the various groups are brought together by their shared quest for power and not by a shared political ideology.
Prime Ministerial candidates:The incumbent Congress Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has ruled himself out as a prime ministerial candidate; and although the party’s vice-president Rahul Gandhi expressed that he is “ready to take charge” of any responsibility given to him, the party has not yet declared Gandhi its official prime ministerial candidate. It is generally believed that perhaps the Congress is reluctant to pit Rahul Gandhi directly in contest with Narendra Modi, the official prime ministerial candidate of BJP.
Issues: Since the last General Election in 2009, the Anti-corruption Movement in 2011 led by Anna Hazare and other similar movements by Baba Ramdev and Arvind Kejriwal have gathered momentum and political interest. Kejriwal went on to form the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in November 2012.
Social media has also played an increasing role in the General Election. With regard to the 2013 Muzaffarnanar Riots and the 2002 Gujarat Riots, communalism has played a role in the election. Important issues during the campaign included rising prices, corruption, economy, security, infrastructure, electricity, water, health et al.
In a survey by Zee News, for about 14% of people, corruption has been the main issue in this election. Bloomberg highlighted India’s slowing economy amidst a record high current account deficit and a falling rupee in the summer of 2013. It pointed out a lack of infrastructure investment and a government increasingly likely to give subsidies which the national finances cannot afford before an election. Stagnant policymaking and an inefficient bureaucracy are also significant issues, and the economy was the main issue in this election.
Modi also brought up the issue of farmers’ suicides due to high debt and poor crop yield. The price increases in onions and salt signify general consumer price inflation while, paradoxically, the industrial production is also falling more than expected.
ECOLOGICAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL ASPECTS
In the past political leaders hardly spoke about environmental issues, making it difficult to find a mainstream place for the ecological and environmental issues in the Indian political discourse. Now, one can see change occurring.Besides issues related to corruption, scams, unemployment, food, education, housing, water, electricity, roads and hospitals, environment and ecology have found a place, though not very prominently.A comparison of the manifestos of the three most prominent parties battling at the national level – INC, BJP, and AAP throws light on where they stand in this regard. None of these parties refer to sustainable development in a strong way and instead offer a slew of environmental measures under the umbrella of sustainable development.
The AAP manifesto does not offer any specific prescription for environmental governance, but broadly speaks about a mechanism for decentralised/ bottom-up governance structure and decision making on all resource allocations — from mining and exploitation of forest resources, to harnessing the renewable energy potential.
The AAP manifesto underlines the role of Gram Sabhas (village councils) in decision-making at their respective levels and their integration in the overall governance process. For example, the AAP manifesto talks about reforming the “Ministry of Environment and Forests and its agencies so that they can empower and help Gram Sabhas to be effective custodians and managers of their local natural resources.” The AAP However does not throw much light on how such a reform will be achieved other than defining sustainable development as equitable, ecologically, and economical.
The BJP manifesto: The BJP’s guide for environmental management finds mention under the subject of “industry” rather than “flora, fauna and environment”. The emphasis on framing environmental laws in a manner that encourages speedy clearances, removal of red tape and bottlenecks, is a sure indicator of diluted scrutiny of development projects at the time of clearance.
The BJP’s manifesto speaks of developing a “hub-spoke model” at both the Centre and the state levels to simplify the clearance processes through a single-window mechanism. Though streamlining the process is certainly desirable for ensuring timely and transparent decision making, a single window process without proper checks and balances — which the manifesto does not clarify — can also create a more general and biased understanding of the impacts of a proposed project and influence subsequent decision making.
The BJP focuses on the management of natural resources with respect to more marketable commodities which can earn high returns, such as coal and minerals, and the protection of natural resources such as forests and water barely find mention.
The Congress manifesto: Like the BJP, the Congress’ manifesto also focuses on a business-friendly governance structure, and clearly mentions that the party intends to streamline the regulatory structures and create a business-friendly environment. The idea of developing a single window clearance mechanism for all investors is much in line with what the BJP promises as well. A decentralised management system for forests and water resources is briefly mentioned in the Congress manifesto.
The ruling Congress party’s election platform lists action-oriented goals including calls for: (i) engaging tribal and forest dwelling communities more centrally in forest management; (ii) setting up empowered, well-funded special purpose agencies to clean up major rivers, learning from the Ganga experience (this is useful, as the experience of the Ganga River Basin Authority has taught us a lot on what does and does not work); (iii) ‘Green National Accounting’ by 2016-17; (iv) establishing a National Environmental Appraisal and Monitoring Authority (NEAMA) to conduct rigorous and time-bound environmental appraisals and recommendations on environmental clearances; and (v) other generic solutions such as promoting water conservation and waste management, protecting biodiversity, accelerating the national solar mission and setting up a national wind mission, providing clean cooking fuel.
Water: Water is a critical issue in India. Several activists and organisations are demanding that political parties include a community driven water management system and river policy in their manifestos, but the proposal for management of water resources remains vague in all the three parties’ manifestos. The proposals for managing water resources refer to the usual phrases such as “conservation”, “efficient use of water resources” and “rain water harvesting”.
Comment: The manifestos of the parties do not hold out much hope to the deprived and the marginalised, with the exception of the AAP manifesto to some extent which says that “commercial exploitation of natural resources would be done based on a royalty and revenue sharing agreement with the local communities.”
It is regrettable that the Indian political parties, so far, have not developed a collective consciousness to address the broader green issues. The majority of Indian political parties do not think out of the box when it comes to ecology or environment. Contrary to this, the so-called mainstream political parties are embedded to the neo-liberal economic thinking. Voters seek real action-oriented plans and implementation on them, and are not impressed by the empty political statements. In a nutshell, the promises made in these manifestos are good political rhetoric, and the implementation part will be really difficult.
General conclusion: Neither Congress party nor BJP is capable of winning majority of seats meaning the next government will be inevitably a coalition government. India’s fractured political landscape, with its dozens of regional parties, makes it hard to be sure. Moreover, the generational shift underway in family-governed regional parties across the country will make coalition politics even more unpredictable.
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05/08/2014 – 17:21