Vote Bank: A Reality
With the seventh round of election ending this week, the luck of almost all top leaders of all political parties has been sealed in EVMs. Although the Modi wave is evident, one cannot predict the electorate’s mood until May 16. But what is the most perturbing is the twin bomb-blast that rocked a train at Chennai railway station, killing one person and injuring 14 others. Already innocent people are killed in frequent train accidents, and now innocent people are killed in train bomb blasts by terrorists. In fact, the condition of the Railway security has become worse under the 10-year rule of the UPA government. It cannot be gainsaid that what the UPA-1 and UPA-2 governments’ manifestos manifested in their respective regimes is no secret.The debate about the future of the Congress is because of the present mood in the country. By and large, the impression is that voters, disgusted with non-governance and policy paralysis, want to vote out the Congress. The prediction is that the BJP might emerge as a single largest party and this issue was elaborated on in one of our last cover stories. But people of India cannot be befooled. They know who to trust and who to laugh at. When Indian democracy had its first elections in 1952, there were hardly any regional parties. In fact, it was the Congress party that held its sway over the nation. Even in the sixties, it won the majority of the seats. But when the BJP formed the government at the Centre, it was with the support of its alliance partners, and the same was witnessed with the Congress after 2004 and 2009 elections. So, the writing on the wall is fairly clear: the days of single-party system at the Centre are over for Indian democracy. But it is in the interest of the nation to have a bi-polar system to strengthen the biggest democracy of the world. Today, only a coalition government that can hold its partners together through thick and thin can hope to form a government at the Centre. What has given rise to such development is the rise of regional parties that try hard to make their presence felt at the Centre as well. There are many regional parties that mushroomed in various parts of the country based on regional issues and related politics. The Congress and the BJP are untouchables in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu. Even the so-called Congress bastion states like Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, etc, have fallen prey to regional politics and the Congress has somehow managed to retain power by forming coalition government. Uttar Pradesh, the state that can change course of Indian politics with 80 Lok Sabha seats, was once considered to be the Congress hometown. Bur after the Somnath Rath Yatra and Ayodhya controversies, the BJP stormed this Congress hometown and the Congress became minority in UP. However, the BJP could not retain power in UP and regional parties like the SP and the BSP went far ahead of both the BJP and the Congress. Today these parties hold keys in UP. It is said that the rise of regional parties suggests that established discourse on nation and nation-building is being challenged. It is true that the decline of national-level parties has released a number of forces, which contain democratic possibilities. On the other hand, it would be unrealistic to expect regional parties to fully or effectively transcend the characteristics of Indian polity.
Against this backdrop, what if voters decide that regional leaders’ poll gambits—promised government paternalism with an eye on electoral arithmetic—should be cast off? What if voters show less interest in these leaders’ political promises and more in their track records? That is the beauty of democracy: it causes political actors to modify their behaviour in ways that generate wider support and hence leads to more acceptable behaviour. In that scenario, both the Congress and the BJP would need to stick to their basic moorings—it would not only be good for them but also for the country. But in the present ambience, the greatest problem is everybody wants to capture power but nobody is either sincere or serious about systematic governance.
Vote banks are necessarily a bad feature of any democracy, but cannot be ignored. Indian politics has been repeatedly grappling with this question for last few decades. pocket votes and vote banks have always hovered around in our political space. In a sense, vote banks, not just in India but all across the world, have mostly been synonymous with support bases of various political outfits. So, is the BJP now playing the same minority appeasement politics that it accuses its rivals of? Or is it simply responding to electoral truths and attempting to widen its vote base? In a democracy, ideology may be dispensable but vote banks are not. The successful politician, with an ear to the ground, will sense the pulse of the vote bank from a distance and modify accordingly.