19 March 2006
For the largest democracy in the world, elections are necessarily a vital spectacle. Millions of voters, thousands of polling personnel, battalions of security, mountains of stationery, months of preparation, hyper campaigns, media frenzy, all combine to foist the best on us. Or so, at least, is the intent.
In exactly one month from today, Assembly elections will kick off in the state of West Bengal. Unprecedented in its history, perhaps the history of any other state, the polls have been staggered into five phases stretched over a period of four weeks. It’s indeed going to be a spectacle of staggering proportions. One of the basic ingredients that goes into making Indian elections — a great level of hope and expectation.
For a country where more than a quarter of its billion citizens live below the poverty line, even after 50 years of Independence, elections are a giant leap of faith. Our half-clad, half-fed voters queuing up at the booths, uphold for human civilisation the best working political system it has evolved so far — democracy.
Elections inspire hope because your vote counts, your opinion matters; your voice is heard. In this massive nation this is a very important feeling! In fact, one of the best gifts our founding fathers left us. In the chaos of Independence, it would have been easy to adopt harsher measures.
The hills send three representatives to the Assembly. The trio brings to the heart of the state, affairs of its northernmost end, which is nothing like the rest of the province. The developmental issues here are different, so is the temperament of the people. And for 99 years they have been seeking political autonomy. It’s a lot on the shoulders of our three legislators.
The CPI-M is the only party that has already begun its campaign, which is already now two weeks old. The rest are still engaged in completing their homework. There is no reason to complain why the Left Front keeps coming back, relentlessly now for the 30th year. They are the only ones who take the polls seriously.
The showing of the Opposition thus far only magnifies their desperation. A desperation arising out of leadership bankruptcy. They struggle for a clear vision, the path they would take to come to power. They are only waiting for the people to be fed up with the ruling party, and choose them by default. That they still have not been able to declare the names of their candidates only reflects their un-preparedness.
The GNLF on the other hand, won’t say a word about the polls yet. But that is their style. They have the machinery (muscles and money) so there is nothing for them to worry about. And with the Opposition non-starting, they don’t have much to fear. The most unfortunate part is none of the MLAs sent by the GNLF to date have had much impact at the Assembly. Their presence is not evidenced in any state policy.
Regrettably, the lukewarm political scene will turn hot, only once the GNLF jumps into the fray. The Opposition will be left defending attacks from the GNLF, who will steal the polls’ agenda. The history of the party is such that a boycott of the polls is not an improbability. The biggest irony of the forthcoming Assembly elections, which cannot be overlooked, is the fate of the elections to the DGHC and the panchayat in the hills. Both now terribly overdue, the council elections by as much as two years and counting.
By denying the hill people their most important elections, the state agencies have undermined the most vital democratic process here. Despite all that elections mean, despite all the promise they can bring, despite all the sacrifices and suffering it took for our founding fathers to institute the system, here in the hills, it is reduced to naught. No matter the forthcoming Assembly elections and all its hullabaloo, we are decidedly a disenfranchised lot.