Election Fever Grips India

It’s an event of colossal proportions, the ultimate exercise in democracy. The Indian General Elections are just around the corner. The voter turnout across India is expected to touch 675 million.

As is the case with elections in India, there is a mad scramble for party tickets. Many political party workers are complaining of being overlooked for tickets, as children of politicians enter politics. The former Chief Minister of Orissa is divorcing his wife because she “took” his ticket from their constituency. Movie stars, cricketers and other famous personalities have joined political parties and are on the campaigning trail.

Then we have the big “foreign origin” issue. Antonia Maino alias Sonia Gandhi is the Congress Party’s candidate for Prime Minister. The Italian-born widow of Rajiv Gandhi is the self-professed bahu (daughter-in-law) of India, but the right wing BJP is turning her Italian origins into a massive campaign issue.

The fact remains that the Congress party has been on the decline since 1996 and is expected to win less than 100 seats in this election. (275 is required to get a majority in parliament) To save the party, a fifth-generation member of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty has made an entrance into Indian politics. Rahul Gandhi, son of Rajiv Gandhi and grandson of Indira Gandhi, will contest the elections from Amethi in Uttar Pradesh, a backward region in one of India’s two most backward states. The area has always been a stronghold of the dynasty. The US educated Rahul Gandhi has apparently been groomed for the last five years to take centre stage.

The election hype is almost maddening. The one question facing many Indians is what has 57 years of democracy done for India? It would be wrong to blame democracy for all of India’s problems. The problem lies with the people who have entered politics. The first generation of politicians in post-independence India were interested mainly in social service. When two West Bengal ministers visited Mahatma Gandhi in Noukhali in 1948, to ask for his blessing, the Mahatma reminded them that they in power to serve the poor in India’s villages.

The modern-day politician serves no one but himself. I won’t bring in the innumerous number of financial scams that Indian politicians have been involved in. I won’t even mention the politics of hate mongering. This simple fact should help the common Indian understand why a former Chief Election Commissioner called politicians “a cancer”. Since 1954, the Salary, Allowances and Pension of Members of Parliament Act has been amended 26 times. The Act consists of various rules dealing with the travelling and daily allowances, housing, telephone and medical facilities, constituency allowances, journeys abroad and various conveyance and office expenses. As an article in Rediff, a popular web-site stated “An MP (Member of Parliament) need not be bothered about filing complicated income tax returns simply because he doesn’t even figure in the tax bracket radar.”

It’s a pity that people with criminal records and absolutely no educational qualifications can become Members of Parliament. These same ministers have civil servants working under them. Civil Servants, who are graduates from various streams and have written extremely difficult exams to earn their positions.

India’s progress in the last fifteen years has to be attributed solely to the dedication and hard work of individuals and the private sector. IT prowess is a result of the private sector, although government non-interference did help In fact the best thing the Government of India did was abolish the industrial license-raj system that was prevalent from 1947 till 1991. 44 years of misgovernance haven’t been undone by 13 years of relatively better rule.

The fact remains that the middle-class Indian has completely lost confidence and faith in the government and any government organisation. Divestment and privatisation are the norms of 21st century India. Indians don’t have to travel on Indian Airlines or Air India anymore. We don’t even have to subscribe to telephone services operated by the government.

So what does the Indian electorate want from a new government? Just the right to live their lives in peace, without interference and harm from those in power!