Assembly Election Results: Dumbing Down of Democracy
In the aftermath of the election results from the five states, namely Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur, much of the analysis has gone into understanding the nature of the verdict, its impact on national politics and how the Opposition define its space in the 2024 general elections. The often asked stereotypical question is “which way will the voter swing”? Purely in this context, the voters this time have flummoxed several pollsters, journalists and seasoned political observers.
Assembly elections 2022 clearly affirmed that the voter did not weigh in the complex issues of jobs, inflation, agriculture, COVID mismanagement and, therefore, did not hold their netas (leaders) accountable.
Especially in Uttar Pradesh, the year-long farmers movement, the Hathras rape case, mowing down of farmers in Lakhimpur Kheri, stray cattle menace did not seem to lead to into any kind of electoral revolt simply because of the TINA (There Is No Alternative) factor. Despite palpable anger against the government on the ground or anti-incumbency, the 2022 election outcome brought forth a pro-incumbency phenomenon. Perhaps, a key reason for this was the ineffective communication strategy of the Opposition, which was not only incoherent but also could not inspire or galvanise public anger into votes in their favour.
The voter this time didn’t seem excited, merely because the reality was too stark -- people had lost jobs, their dear ones and instability was staring at every middle-class home. Yet, voters felt that “BJP is still better than the others".
Accept it or not but the post-COVID era, which has left the society and people economically bleeding, has transformed the voter mindset from an enthusiastic species to a numbed entity. This psyche has been justified and well fed or, you may say, has been cushioned or comforted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s welfare schemes of free rations, free salt, free electricity, subsidized cylinders, pucca houses, toilets, free vaccines. All this left the voter drowned in a sense of obligation. Governance and providing services to the citizenry are not obligations but duties of the government.
There was a time when the Indian voter was categorised as the ‘aspirational’, which echoed in a popular advertisement’s tagline -- 'Yeh Dil Maange More' (This heart aspires for more). Unfortunately, the same voter now looks timid, stripped of his/her intellectual wisdom against the lashes of the Whatsapp University messages which seem to have numbed them into believing that there is no concept of the term called 'rights'.
In fact, despite the rising literacy, the voter appears politically and socially dormant. Is this the welfare state that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is promising? Is this the democracy we want to showcase before the world as vishwaguru (world leader) where the voter stands with a begging bowl before the government?
What does one make of a dispensation which cannot reawaken and revitalise the electorate and empower it to demand economic and social accountability from its own political class?
The popular narrative about the Indian voter has always been that they are driven by caste identities, but this line was blurred in 2022 by the ‘labharthi’ or beneficiary – a segment projected so efficiently by BJP’s propaganda machinery. All sections of the society, be it women, youths or various communities, were communicated only one underlining message "aapne Modi ji ka namak khaya hai" (you have partaken Modi’s salt – a term conveying a sense of indebtedness).
A failed Opposition certainly could not evoke the required confidence, but it's time now for citizens to rise and see the real issues and hold the ruling dispensation accountable, ask them where the jobs are, what are the deliverables in agriculture, why is the economy sinking, why was the pandemic so poorly managed?
The nation's needs an aware populace, not obligated sheep that can be herded with free packets of oil, ghee, salt, liquor or even cash. Is this not equivalent to the dumbing down of democracy?
Famous Greek philosopher Socrates once said: “Voting in an election is a skill not a random intuition, and like any skill it needs to be systematically taught to the people, letting the citizenry vote without an education is almost similar to putting them in a storm”.
The writer is a Delhi-based freelance journalist. The views are personal.
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