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People still plump for an economic environment that promises them opportunities and encourages enterprise
Amidst all the political churn underway presently, there is one truth - that the 2014 Parliamentary elections will one of the most important elections for India.
After two terms under a Congress led Government that has been racked by numerous evidence/instances of failures in governance, a badly managed and hence faltering economy and visible decline in governmental institutional performance/credibility – India’s vision of evolving into a developed nation seems to be at a cul-de-sac or crossroad, paused it seems looking for political intervention with vision.
Only the most thick-skinned amongst us will deny that Indians are seeking a change. A change in how we see our Government and politics. India’s youth demographic are also restless, increasingly voluble and are threatening to reject the political status quo of “political social engineering” - which is the political lingo for stitching up caste/ religious voting blocks based on a bedrock of political deal making and largesse, rather than any common political beliefs.
India is a developing nation; its goal ought to be to become a developed nation. However, there hasn’t been any real political debate or consensus on how to get there. The government has swamped us with an unrelenting marketing Kool-Aid of this pre-ordained economic superpower status - astride a huge, uncontrolled welfare state.
But for political parties jostling to occupy this space for change - the reality is this. Just being opposed to Congress will not get them the space. The clamor for change is more about the culture of Governance and Politics, and the reality is that any Party that lays out a convincing narrative of their approach to this need for change could catalyze the voters.
The opposition, BJP, has done very little to present an alternative vision - or at least one that addresses this desire for change amongst Indians.
Just as elected governments have a responsibility to govern well, there is cast upon the opposition the responsibility not just to oppose, but to present an alternative vision and approach. The BJP first won power in the late 1990s. Regrettably much of its time is expended in debates – internal and external – related to holdover issues from that period. The BJP has to ask itself whether the old shibboleths of secularism and communalism, and the various points of discussion and argument in the 1990s, still hold true. They fact is they don’t.
The BJP needs to be conscious of this. Indeed, the principal factors on the minds of voters are about governance and economic concerns. Of course these are reflected and represented differently for different people. Yet, all are dependent on the same equation of good governance and opportunity and want the narrative to be changed to one of enterprise, hope and access. If it is to be successful in the elections, it is important for the BJP to be on top of this debate. There is a realization among important sections of voters that a framework of runaway doles and welfare programmes, built on promises but hollow delivery mechanisms, can win short-term support, but is not sustainable in the long-term.
Far from hand-outs, most people would still plump for an economic environment that promised them opportunities, enabled and encouraged enterprise and provided reasonable opportunity for individuals to realise their dreams of a dignified life. Business seeks a change from extractive, rent-seeking rule or politically-connected crony capitalistic success, to one where a culture of healthy entrepreneurship blooms.
If the BJP or indeed any party or political alliance wants to be to be considered as a viable alternative, it has to build and articulate such a vision. It has to persuade in the coming year that it is alive to these hopes, aspirations and challenges, and has rock-solid and practicable ideas for making public administration more outcome-based.
Equally, if the Congress wants to relaunch itself with a new set of ideas that go to the core need for change and moving away from its letdowns over its last two terms, it could still be a viable alternate. A New Congress positioned as one that could deliver on the aspirations of change and enterprise. The recent Congress victory in Karnataka on a plank and promise of Good Governance shows that this New Congress option remains a difficult but viable one.
The bottom line is this - the political debates and indeed the narrative of the vision for Elections 2014 promises to be different. The bland secularism vs communalism debate steering the voter, promises to evolve into one where Governance, economy, enterprise, nationhood etc. will all enter the lexicon of those seeking votes.
This article appeared in The Hindustan Times on June 28, 2013