Model Towns of Democracy

Model Towns of Democracy

By M.J. Akbar | 11 May, 2014
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi interacts with voters near a polling booth in Amethi on voting day on Wednesday. PTI
Interrogators, who come armed with minute variations within Gujarat statistics, never ask Rahul why there isn’t a road or a decent medical facility in Amethi.

Is there a high quality dramatist hidden in the calendar department of the Election Commission? This general election has been a nine-act drama. Inevitably, one or two passages were devoid of the intensity with which play began. But not even Shakespeare could have devised a denouement as spiriting as the one that marks the end of play. On the second last day of polling there was Amethi. And the last votes will be punched in at Varanasi.

Even the disinterested spectator cannot have missed the harried visage of star Congress campaigner Rahul Gandhi in Amethi. There was reason enough. In 2009 Rahul Gandhi did not visit his constituency on polling day and won by more votes than could be easily counted. This year desperately-seeking-Rahul is battling for his political life and every vote counts. He brushed aside the code of conduct in his anxiety, stepped into electronic voting machine enclosures during polling, and exhorted voters, as reported by the Times of India, with a plaintive appeal: "Dekh lena, bhaiya [Look out for me, brother]."

The Indian Express noted that such canvassing from booth to booth often invited jeers. He was heckled. In Chilauli Singhpur, 63-year-old Ambika Saran Singh noted archly that he had finally got to see his MP after ten years, and added that Rahul Gandhi had come not for Amethi's benefit, but for his own. Young men at Phoola Gaon booth asked Rahul Gandhi whether he had been jolted by the potholes on the roads or not. His only supporters were among Muslims, and perhaps their enthusiasm was not at previous levels.

If you want to know why, all you have to do is take a look at the photograph of Rahul Gandhi at the EVM booth in Madhyamik Vidyalaya published by the Times. The real story is on the walls of this school. It was a picture of misery. This was the state of schools in the one constituency which should have got highest-priority during a decade of UPA rule. It was a snapshot of the extreme indifference with which Rahul Gandhi has treated his lifeline to politics; even token facilities like public toilets have collapsed. This is symptomatic of Congress policy towards the electorate: why worry about development when vote banks will once again rally around and save your skin?

There has been much heat about the Gujarat model of growth. Have you ever wondered why no one talks about any Amethi model? Simple answer: there isn't any. Interrogators, who come armed with minute variations within Gujarat statistics, never seem to ask Rahul Gandhi why there isn't a road or a single decent medical facility in Amethi. Perhaps this is reticence, perhaps it is diffidence; one assumes it is not because of any awe of the family. But just as continuous questions keep those in charge of Gujarat on their toes, silence on Amethi has led to complacency. Amethi has become one of the symbols of the 16th general election.

No one of course knows the numbers hidden in the voting machines. The emotional quotient of a legacy has silent depth. But what is indisputable is that Rahul Gandhi is in serious trouble for the first time since he stepped into electoral politics, and he has no one to blame for this mess except for himself. He has had minimal time for Parliament; his attitude to power has been interventionist determined by some political script; and his attitude to Amethi was indifferent at best and cynical at worst.

But if Rahul Gandhi does become member from Amethi yet again, the comparison in 2019 will not be between Amethi and Gujarat but between Amethi and Varanasi, which Narendra Modi will represent in Parliament. The BJP candidate for Prime Minister has specified, in detail, how he plans to convert Varanasi into a world capital of tourism, develop a lucrative market for the products of its superb weaving craftsmen and of course clean the Ganga. His agenda is set.

Democracy is a tough business. Elections are about real-time choices. The voter does not have the luxury of theory, or drawing room options like "None Of The Above". The citizen wants good governance, and a vacuum or uncertainty is not the best way to get it. People want to know who is going to be in charge, if for no other reason than to hold someone accountable if things go wrong. If 2014 was, when all notional veils are stripped away, a contest between the capabilities of Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi, then in all likelihood 2019 is going to be a re-match. Congress is unlikely to abandon its premier family; it finds comfort in genes. Among the many nuances of this multi-layered tournament called a general election will be a contest between the Varanasi and Amethi models of constituency development.

Elections are as much about punishment for mistakes as hope for the future. Punishment ends on voting day; hope begins with the results.

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