Democracy will be strong only when voters and leaders get their priorities right and turn them into issues.
This week, I got a call from a journalist friend from Cologne. He wanted to know the “status” of the Assembly elections in states like Uttar Pradesh and Punjab and whether these would affect the Lok Sabha elections of 2024. My answer was: In India, there is a continuous election festival. In Germany, elections were held on a Sunday, and after 16 years, there is a possibility of change. On what issues have people’s minds and votes changed? My curiosity was high because I had gone to Germany as an editor at Radio Vice of Germany for three years and have gone on to cover the German elections since then. Then in recent years, relations between India and Germany have become stronger on economic and many international matters. The German journalist said with some sarcasm that elections are not held in Germany on the issues of caste-religion and similar equations like in India. This time, the voting was done on the issues of environment-climate change, digitization and modernization. The environmentalist Green Party has not been able to get a majority to be its Chancellor, but without it, perhaps no party-coalition government will be formed.
After that, we had a long talk. But his sarcasm on India’s elections really stung me. We take pride in the fact that we are the world’s largest democracy and voters are exercising their franchise from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, from remote Mizoram to the inaccessible villages of Arunachal Pradesh. But the electoral gimmicks have corrupted the entire election. As far as ideologies are concerned, to a large extent, due to economic liberalism in India, Europe, America, there is no significant difference in the policies of most of the parties. Therefore, in a country like Germany, the Christian Democratic Party, which is considered to be right-wing, becomes ready for compromise and alliance with the liberal socialist Social Democratic Party (SPD) or even with the environmentalist Green Party. Similarly, the SPD has agreed to an alliance with the right-wing Free Democratic Party (FDP) and the Greens. For this reason, there will be manipulations for weeks to get their Chancellor (Prime Minister) to form the government.
But there is no situation that gives rise to buying and selling legislators. The real problem are the priorities, that is, the main issues. It is a pleasant democratic situation that voters have given utmost importance to environmental protection and have given the Green Party an important role in forming the government of the country. Another funny thing was seen in this election that the two candidates for the post of Chancellor also made preferences for vegetarian and non-vegetarian a part of their campaign. The self-reliance of the nation has been a big issue for everyone. People are also unhappy there due to red tape. That’s why parties and leaders promised to do away with it. The eastern part of Germany has been under communist rule for a long time. But after unification, the presence of the communists has become negligible today. Communists are in power in some countries like China and Russia or Cuba, but Russia’s economic policies have become liberal in world competition.
In India, there is respect for nature; sun, moon, mountains, river-air, water are worshiped as gods, but natural wrath—floods, landslides, pollution—means the environment and the red tape of the babus running from the British Raj policing issues are not made the top priority to replace outdated laws. Most of the political parties give importance to the selection of candidates and their influence on the basis of caste and religion. In the manifestos, the ideological promises are big, but many candidates do not even remember their full manifesto and in the next election, these are repeated with some modifications. The emphasis is on giving. It is definitely necessary to provide water, electricity, food grains, house, education, health free of cost to the poor, but in some years it is more necessary to make them fit for the right job and self-dependent.
After Independence, there was some benefit of the influence of socialist ideas, but instead of the poor, the middle class and even the privileged took more advantage of the government’s freebies or concessions. They want domestic gas or electricity at rates available to the poor people, petrol and gas at the same price as provided to those who drive scooters and those who drive state-of-the-art cars worth Rs 5 crore, including Mercedes.
We need government hospital facility. But this educated class does not give any preference to make environment an issue. Similarly, political parties or other organizations talk about economic progress, industries and employment, but fiercely oppose the giving of land for setting up roads, bridges, factories. In many places, the work keeps hanging for years. In modernization, if industrial and business companies start becoming influential in the country and abroad, then people start questioning governments about their benefits. After all, how many jobs can the government itself provide? If employment becomes an issue, then why is voice not raised in the local elections for skill development? If agricultural laws were to be reformed to compete with Europe, a class stood in opposition. However, not only Germany, Japan and countries of Europe and America are investing in and will invest capital in India on a large scale. At least that’s what the stock market is indicating. Keep the elections going, democracy will be strong only when voters and leaders will also have the right priorities, turn them into issues and achieve success.
Alok Mehta is Editorial Director of ITV Network-India News and Dainik Aaj Samaj.