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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 18, April 18, 2009

Whom to Vote?

Saturday 18 April 2009, by Raj Kishore

Voting is not a simple business. It is a false impression that the voter is the king. The king-maker certainly he is. But his choices are always limited. The boundaries are fixed by the contesting parties and individuals. The voter has no role in deciding who would contest from his constituency. Candidates field themselves without consulting even a small number of voters. In a sense, they are imposed from above. Everyone is entitled to contest. Naturally, victory goes to the person who secures maximum number of votes. It is for the voter to choose whom he would favour with his precious vote. Even if he does not find any of the candidates worthy of his trust, he has to vote, for not exercising his franchise would amount to abstaining from voting under the Indian election law. Abstaining from voting would have no impact on who wins and who loses. The candidate, who gets the maximum number of votes, irrespective of the margin, would represent the constituency. This shows the helplessness of the ultimate sovereign. In a completely infected political atmosphere, the voter becomes a slave to the existing political parties. If whomsoever he votes for is a disgrace to democracy, that is, since the whole political system has decayed and decayed completely, the voter becomes a pawn in the hands of self-serving politicians, parties and independent candidates. It is these who legitimise their power through the forced endorsement of the voters.

From this viewpoint, the scenario of the ongoing Lok Sabha elections is very grim. There are three main groups of political parties but none of them is satisfactory to a discerning voter. All are equally worthless. The difference is only in colour, not in substance. Of them, the BJP is the most dangerous as it is also nakedly communal apart from sharing common vices with other political parties. One may like to stand by the parties forming the Third Front as it includes the Leftists but this can be done only with a trembling conscience. Most parties of this seemingly progressive alliance have supported either the Congress or BJP in the recent past. Even the Leftists supported the Manmohan Singh Government for the most part of its five-year term. If the Left’s compromise is seen as a political compulsion to keep the BJP out of power, the latest record of its dominant constituent, that is, the CPI-M, in West Bengal is stained with the blood of innocent people. In Kerala, it is a divided house—one faction a prisoner of orthodoxy and the other one looking modern but as corrupt as a Communist can afford to be. The gloves have fallen apart and the colour of its hands is out.

Then, whom to vote and why? This is the big question before the conscientious and alert voter in the present parliamentary elections. The party system has reached the cut-off point where it extends no guarantee for even maintaining the minimum democratic norms. No party is fighting the elections to uphold the constitutional values that are supposed to guide our conduct and the conduct of political parties aspiring for power. Petty conflicts, exchange of indecencies and lack of vision are marring the elections—universally accepted as the biggest celebration of people’s power. It is claimed that politics is all about power. No sane person can agree on this amoral position. In a democracy, power must be used for the good of the common people. Otherwise it is dictatorship by another name.

Obviously, voting for any particular block of parties is not going to help. All political forecasters are united in the opinion that a clear-cut majority would remain elusive for any of the three alliances—Left, Centre or Right. The government would have to be formed by post-election alliances. If this is going to be the case, why not make some innovation and attempt to influence the composition of the post-election scene? This is achieved by voting for the least harmful candidates and defeating all those candidates who are enjoying power. This may be a good lesson for the political practitioners of the day.

The scheme that is suggested here is like this. Without a shade of doubt, the BJP is the most dangerous party. It should not be allowed to win a single seat. Therefore, the first principle is: pool together all the votes against the BJP candidate who is likely to win from a particular constituency. This is every voter’s sacred duty. After this is ensured, the Congress candidates ought to be defeated as they constitute the second greatest danger. Lastly, all candidates belonging to parties presently in power should be shown the door because none of them can justify their claim for power. One can call it a ‘punishment theory’. Since none deserves to be rewarded, what option is left with the voter but to punish?

Let us now see how this theory operates in real practice. In a constituency where the BJP candidate is strong, vote for the candidate who is most likely to defeat him. This candidate may well belong to the Congress party. Between the BJP and Congress, the latter is always preferable. Where there is a keen contest between a Congress candidate and a non-Congress candidate, vote for the latter. Lately, Congress has been in power for five years and has not distinguished itself by pro-people policies. It has, therefore, forfeited its claim to be returned.

I can see two reasonable exceptions to this general formula. If you have a time-tested good candidate in your constituency, vote for him irrespective of the colour of his party. This will encourage his party owners to field good candidates. Certainly, disfavour him if he belongs to the BJP. No good person can remain with BJP. If there is one, he is gifting out his goodness to a murderous organisation. There can be no sympathy with him. Secondly, where two candidates are in the fray and one of them belongs to a party in power in the State and the other belongs to a party in power at the Centre, defeat the candidate who belongs to the party in power in the State. The State administration is nearer to the people and impacts them directly. Where there is a strong contest between two candidates and both of them belong to the Opposition, let your conscience decide. All Opposition candidates are not equally good.

For example, in Uttar Pradesh, first defeat the communalists wherever they are stronger than other candidates, and then defeat the ruling BSP candidates where they are likely to win. What to do in a constituency where neither the BSP nor the BJP is influential? There may be an SP candidate or a Congress candidate or someone belonging to a small party. Or, an Independent. Choose the one who is least harmful either individually or at the party level. In Bihar, there may be a serious problem in selecting the right candidate since all the three outfits, led by Nitish Kumar, Laloo Prasad and Ram Vilas Paswan, are in power at different levels. The CPI-ML is the only mentionable Opposition. It could, therefore, be a right choice to vote for CPI-ML candidates. Where the CPI-ML has no electoral presence, weigh the rest on merit—first as an individual and then as a party and vote for the best. In Bihar, all major parties are infested with goondas. Since this is also the case in Uttar Pradesh, the preference for the candidate rather than the party can well be relied upon in this State too.

Superficially seen, this may look as a defeatist outlook. It is not. Since no sane person can harbour a positive attitude towards any party in power and all the parties are anti-people as our experience shows, the parties in Opposition need to be encouraged to minimise the harm our political system can cause. When the voter is confronted with equally bad choices, the party in Opposition is always the lesser evil than the party in power. Is it an anti-incumbency proposition? Certainly not. A ruling Congress candidate must be preferred to a BJP candidate who is in Opposition. In Bihar, a candidate belonging to the Janata Dal (U) may be better than a Laloo or Paswan nominee. Of course, there is a case against Nitish Kumar as he has not severed his connection with the NDA, which is led by the BJP, the big brother. But in the present scene, this alliance is only theoretical. Nitish Kumar himself is not known to be communal and there is little chance of the BJP’s revival.

It is a common refrain that we, as a country, have fallen on bad days. At best, we can claim to be a surviving democracy. To run a credible democracy, a healthy party system needs to be in place. Our political parties are only nam ke waste. Leadership positions are held as per rules operating among gangsters. There is no freedom to debate in any party. Internal democracy is conspicuous by its absence. Dictatorial tendencies are visible in almost all organisations—political. social and even cultural. Gang-like party structures can only further erode the democratic values that are still breathing, although with difficulty. If India is fated to become a true democracy, we would soon be witness to the emergence of people-friendly political organi-sations. So long as this takes its own time, one’s democratic duty consists in discouraging those who are misusing power. Only by perpetual opposition to such parties and individuals can we separate the lesser evil from the bigger one. Barring parties like the BJP and Shiv Sena, all are invited to power in turns. This may also be called the theory of least harm as the real choice lies between the scoundrels in power and the scoundrels in waiting.

The author, a Hindi columnist, is a Senior Fellow, Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi.

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