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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 15, April 13, 2024

2024 Lok Sabha Elections: Some Thoughts | P S Jayaramu

Friday 12 April 2024


April 7, 2024

We are in the midst of a high-voltage election season in India. Temperatures, both in terms of the weather and electoral rhetoric and shrillness, are rising high. The focus of my attention in this article is on some key issues. Before doing so, let me recall two contrarian quotations about democracy and governance.

Taking a somewhat cynical ( or realistic?) view, Alexander Pope, once said: “for forms of government, let fools contest, what is best administered is best”, implying thereby that good governance is what matters. As a counter to that argument, one of the celebrated American writers, in his celebrated book “Modern Governments” Prof. Herman Finer wrote : “ what is best must free men still decide, lest leaders gull them and officials ride”. Herman Finer was cautioning people that it is their duty to decide in favour of democracy and elections as they would be, otherwise taken for a ride by politicians and officials. Needless to say, in the current election season in India, the citizens have to perform the foremost duty of deciding what is best for them, as otherwise, they will be in for a season of misrule by leaders, who may turn out to be more and more authoritarian and unaccountable.

With the above quotations providing the context for our discussion, let me dwell with the key issues confronting us. First and foremost is the two contrasting claims being made by the ruling BJP and the opposition INDIA bloc, especially the Congress Party. There are many in the ruling establishment who are, both directly and indirectly, saying that if they get elected with a big majority of 370 seats ( PM Modi is taking of “abki baar 400 paar” [This time over 400] including the allies ) they will be bringing about fundamental changes in India, like amending the Constitution to not only remove certain basic structure like Socialsm and Secularism embedded in the Preamble of our Constitution and herald an excessively centralised federal relations, but formally declare India a Hindu Rastra, on theocratic lines, like the neighbouring Pakistan. Such an expression of intent was made by the ex-Karnataka MP Ananth Kumar Hegde openly. Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself perhaps alluded to it when he said recently that the two terms were only a trailor to what would come about during his third term!

In any case, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and many other opposition leaders are cautioning that the 2024 Lok Sabha polls are going to be a battle between those who are working hard to institutionalise dictatorial/authoritarian rule and those who are fighting to resurrect democracy in India. The situation is reminiscent of Alexander Pope’s and Herman Finer’s observations referred to above. The young Social media influencer Dhruv Rathee, who otherwise makes educational videos, in a recent interview, called upon the citizens take up the battle to save democracy on a now or never basis.

Let me turn to certain crucial issues relevant to saving democracy in India. First is the gross misuse of institutions like the CBI,ED, the Income Tax department and the non-formal institution, the media, by the ruling party, while the Election Commission of India and the Judiciary are under pressure. It is true that some of the institutions referred to above were controlled earlier, specially during the emergency, by Indira Gandhi. She even talked of committed bureaucracy and committed judiciary. But, the notable difference is that a democratically massively elected BJP government of Modi, which faces no threat to its existence, is having a stranglehold over the ED, CBI and the Income Tax department to harass and punish the democratically elected opposition chief ministers and other leaders. It is imperative that the government of the day does not cross the ‘Lakshman Rekha’ in the use of institutions. May be, the President of India and the Election Commission should step in to advice the government to postpone actions like arrest of opposition leaders during the election season. Surely, cases against them, if any, be can be pursued post-election time. Additionally, it is high time to pass rules/legislation’s to ensure independent functioning of institutions in future.

As regards the media, specially the electronic media,( particularly their regional branches), the institution itself should rise to the occasion and assert their independence to act as the watch-dog of democracy. Sadly, some of them seem to be in competition with one another to appease the powers-be.

More importantly, something meaningful and historic decisions need to be made in the arena of electoral funding. While it is necessary that the ceiling on candidates regarding electoral expenses needs upward revision, it is equally important that reforms like state funding of election, should be seriously pursued.

The Supreme Court ruling on the Electoral Bonds, though delayed, has been a welcome feature, to ensure a level-playing field. Additionally, one of the key requirement is that business houses and other donors be made to give their contributions in a transparent manner to the Election Commission of India, which in turn can release amounts on an agreed principle to the Political Parties and not individual contestants, to take care of their genuine needs regarding their electoral expenses. This of course will have to be done for future elections.

Finally, it bears emphasis that citizens take their voting duty as a sacred function and cast their votes,( not vote their caste) based on their own assessment of the candidates in their constituencies, instead of going by a national leader, howsoever charismatic and a cult personality he/ she may be. Failure to perform their sacred duty would tantamount to losing their moral right to criticise their elected representatives, when they go wrong.

Hopefully, the ensuing elections to the Lok Sabha across the country would be as fair as possible and violence-free to make democracy vibrant in India.

(Author: P S Jayaramu, former Professor of Political Science, Bangalore University and a former Senior Fellow, ICSSR, New Delhi)

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