Saturday, 23 May 2009

The Four Cs

There is little doubt that four Cs have been the bane of Indian politics for some time now. They are – not necessarily in order of importance or significance – communalism, criminalisation of politics, corruption and casteism. Each of these (barring criminalisation) was made a major issue by some political grouping or the other. So what verdict did voters give? I feel that despite fulminating against all these evils and blaming politicians for fostering them, people haven’t reacted sufficiently against them.


Everybody says that Verdict 2009 was a vote for the middle path, that people rejected the politics of polarisation. The evidence that is being offered is:

# the poor performance of the BJP, which also found its vote share dropping from 22.4 per cent in 2004 to 18.8 per cent in 2009.

# the lacklustre performance of the party in Gujarat – headed by an extremely polarising Narendra Modi – where also its vote share dropped from 47.37 per cent to 46.52 per cent and it managed to increase its 2004 tally of 14 seats by just one (it now has 15 seats in Gujarat).

# the poor performance of the Shiv Sena – far more polarising than the BJP or even Modi – which won only 11 of the 47 seats it contested and found its vote share dropping from 1.81 per cent in 2004 to 1.55 in 2009.

But is this enough to presume a rejection of communal politics? Somehow I am not sure. After all a hate-spewing Varun Gandhi won, with a huge margin. Of course, there is the possibility that this could be because his mother had nurtured that constituency. And the BJP’s lacklustre performance across the country is being attributed to the disenchantment with its lack of firm action against Varun. But I am fairly sure that the hate speech – or at least the over-the-top action taken against him – did swing things in his favour. The drop in the party’s vote share in Gujarat between 2004 and 2009 is less than 1 per cent. That means the Modi brand of politics still has a significant number of takers.

If the Shiv Sena did poorly, it had a lot to do with the fact that the Maharashtra Navnirman Samiti, which had exactly the same plank as the Shiv Sena, cut into its votes hugely, something that made Bal Thackeray fume publicly.


I have always held that the Indian voters may love to carp about corruption in plush drawing rooms as well as DTC buses, but that is hardly an issue in elections. Yes, it became an issue in 1989, when the Bofors scandal shook the nation. But that was probably because of the scale of corruption involved and that the Prime Minister himself was under a cloud. But has it ever been an issue after that? Why, Rajiv Gandhi was all set to return to power n 1991 when he was assassinated. Sukh Ram, the telecom minister in whose house currency notes were found stashed in mattresses, had no problem getting elected. The DMK and the AIADMK keep getting voted in and out alternately even though they are known to be corrupt. Similar examples abound. So if anyone thinks voters are going to rise in anger against corruption and throw bribe-seeking politicians out, they would be well advised to perish the thought.


Many people I know have been heaving a sigh of relief that high-profile criminals like Atiq Ahmad, Mitrasen Yadav, Mukhtar Ansari, Taslimuddin, Abu Azmi and Mohd Tahir as well as the wives of Pappu Yadav and Mohammed Shahabuddin got defeated. But the verdict against criminalisation is also mixed. The Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR), which has been tracking the financial and criminal backgrounds of legislators has done an analysis of the winners in these elections and its findings are interesting:

# The number of MPs with criminal charges has actually increased – from 128 in 2004 to 153 in 2009.

# The number of MPs with serious criminal records has also increased – from 55 to 74 – between 2004 and 2009.

But there appears to be a silver lining.

# In 85 per cent of constituencies where only one candidate had criminal cases, voters chose the clean candidates. In 68 per cent of constituencies where there were two candidates with criminal backgrounds, clean candidates were chosen. The percentage of clean candidates however went down to around 40 per cent in constituencies with four or five candidates.

The press releases (available on the ADR website are not very well drafted and I am not sure if I have paraphrased them properly. The data in the tables is also a bit confusing – how does ADR define criminal charges and serious criminal charges, for example. (This isn’t nitpicking but even defying prohibitory orders to demonstrate is a crime under the IPC). Anyway, this this gives a sense of the general drift – there is no overwhelming verdict against criminalisation.


Of the four Cs, I am most optimistic about the role of caste diminishing. I know I am sticking my head out by saying this, given how the caste composition of a constituency determines the choice of candidates. Some people also cite the poor showing by Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party, which won only 21 of the 500 seats it contested and couldn’t put up a sterling performance even in Uttar Pradesh where it is in power as further proof of the voter rejection of caste-based appeals, which also polarise. But the BSP actually increased its vote share to 6.12 per cent from 5.35 per cent in 2004. why I am confident in spite of that, is that I believe Mayawati’s debacle has to do with a range of factors that relate to governance, among other things. The upper castes who voted for her in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections in 2007 had done so because she held out hope for an alternative to the corrupt and criminalised Samajwadi Party government. There was no way they would have voted for a Dalit party, whose slogan was `tilak, tarazu aur talwar, inko maaro joote chaar’. When they found her government was not very different, they dumped her. So when they believed she would perform, her caste didn’t matter. When she belied those expectations, her caste-based appeals didn’t work.

Clearly, we are going to have to suffer the four Cs for some more time. They cannot be eliminated unless voters rise decisively against them.

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