Green activist, journalist and GGC Member
IN INDIA, the Sixteenth Lok Sabha General Election-2014 is to be over on May 12 and results will be out on May 16, 2014. Subsequently, a new central government has to come into existence. Till date, there remains a level of uncertainty as to which party or political alliance will form the next government.
On the one hand, there is a strong sense of disenchantment against the ruling United Progressive Alliance led by the Indian National Congress (INC); and on the other hand, the main opposition National Democratic Alliance led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has not been able to turn the existing Modi Factor into the Modi Wave. And most importantly, the emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is particularly seen as a stumbling block on the way of BJP’s touted victory march!
By the time we wait for the final phases of General Election-2014 and the results, let us have a brief look at the election process in India and political possibility after the results are out.
The Constitution of India requires election to the Lok Sabha or the Lower House every five years or whenever Parliament is dissolved by the President of India on the recommendation of the Union Government of the day. The election to the present or fifteenth Lok Sabha was held in April-May 2009, and its term expires on 31 May 2014. The Upper House of Parliament is called Rajya Sabha or the Council of States. Whereas members to the Lok Sabha are elected directly by the voters; the Rajya Sabha members are elected by the members of the state assemblies.
The nine-phased General Election-2014 to the Lok Sabha is being organised and held by the Election Commission of India (ECI). The election is being conducted in multiple phases with the purpose to handle the large electoral base and address security concerns in a proper way.
The General Election is spread over five weeks i.e. from April 7 to May 12, 2014. This will not only be the longest but also the most expensive General Election in the history of the country. According to the ECI estimates, the General Election will cost the exchequer 3,500-crore or US$577 million. This amount does not include the expenses incurred on the security arrangements by the government and by individual political parties. The New Delhi-based Centre for Media Studies (CMS) estimates that the political parties are expected to spend 30,500-crore or US$5 billion in this election. This is three times the amount spent in the previous General Election in 2009, and is the world’s second highest after the US$7 billion spent on the US Presidential Election in 2012.
As per the ECI data, the electoral population in 2014 is 814.5 million, the largest in the world. There is an increase in newly eligible voters of 100 million since the last General Election in 2009. Voting has to take place in all 543 parliamentary constituencies to elect the Lok Sabha Members of Parliament. As mentioned already, the results of this election will be declared on 16 May, well before the 15th Lok Sabha completes its constitutional mandate on 31 May 2014.
The 2014 Lok Sabha or General Election is expected to witness a greater turnout amongst young voters. The emergent political force AAP has invariably been able to inspire the youth to be interested in politics and seek greater political participation. And, the political participation obviously starts with exercising one’s Right to Vote. After what is being called a “lost decade” by some, India is actually entering into a period of political reform that is bound to shape a better democratic future of India.
The new political culture of AAP has already triggered the Change Button!
Let us have a quick look at the political parties that really matter in the General Election-2014. A party or an alliance will need at least 272 seats in the Lok Sabha to form the next government at the Centre.
Indian National Congress: The Indian National Congress-led coalition at the Centre has been facing an intense criticism over its misrule. It is facing corruption charges and has been criticised for policy paralysis which has led to downfall of economy and rising prices of goods and commodities. Just before the General Election-2014, the Congress took series of steps to counter the opposition march, passing the Lokpal (ombudsman) Bill was one such move. To Narendra Modi’s call for “Congress free India”, Rahul Gandhi strongly replied that the Congress was an idea that could not be wiped out and those who tried to do it themselves got finished.
Bharatiya Janata Party: Riding on the success of state elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Delhi, BJP is confident of forming the next government under the leadership of Narendra Modi. There is certainly a Modi Factor that has benefitted BJP in the state elections but there is no Modi Wave across the country as BJP propagates. To have a better chance in forming a government at the Centre this month, BJP will need more than 200 seats in the Lok Sabha to attract allies. With the BJP confronted by its own internal contradictions and no possibility of promoting a narrow Hindutva plank on a national scale in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious nation, the future political picture remains hazy. Another of BJP’s biggest challenge will be to get the support of Muslim voters in the backdrop of 2002 Gujarat Riots.
Aam Aadmi Party: The political equation has changed with the emergence of Aam Aadmi Party and its success in the Delhi election which brought this party led by Arvind Kejriwal to power with the support of Indian National Congress. The fact is that the Modi Factor could not stop AAP from getting 28 seats in the 70-member Delhi assembly. The emergence of AAP marks as a crucial phase in the Indian political history. It has given the people a ray of hope that if they commit to make a collective effort for a good social cause, they can bring about a change in the system that has been deteriorated and graded with malpractices. However the success of AAP in the Lok Sabha election remains unpredictable.
Other players: The faint cries of a third front are also there but the fact is that the third front always appears before a general election and does not fructify as there are too many egoistic leaders in the regional parties. Besides, there is no ideological basis to bring them together. Lust for power is the only mantra – only uniting factor.
Prime Ministerial candidates: The incumbent Congress Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has ruled himself out as a prime ministerial candidate. On the other hand, the party vice-president Rahul Gandhi told that he was “ready to take charge” of any responsibility the party gave him. But, the party has not declared him its official prime ministerial candidate. Actually, the Congress did not want to pit Rahul Gandhi directly in contest with Narendra Modi, the official prime ministerial candidate of BJP.
Issues: Since the last General Election in 2009, the Anti-corruption Movement in 2011 by Anna Hazare and other similar movements by Baba Ramdev and Arvind Kejriwal have gathered momentum and political interest. Kejriwal went on to form his own political party called Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in November 2012.
Social media has also played an increasing role in the General Election. With regard to the 2013 Muzaffarnanar Riots and the 2002 Gujarat Riots, communalism has played a role in the election. Important issues during the campaign included rising prices, corruption, economy, security, infrastructure, electricity, water, health et al.
In a survey by Zee News, for about 14% of people, corruption has been the main issue in the election. Bloomberg highlighted India’s slowing economy amidst a record high current account deficit and a falling rupee in summer of 2013. It pointed out to a lack of infrastructure investment and a government increasingly likely to give subsidies the national finances cannot afford just before the election.
Other points it mentioned were stagnant policymaking and an inefficient bureaucracy. The economy was the main issue in the campaign. The lack of a clear mandate as a result of the election could lead to an increase in the price of gold in the country.
Modi also brought up the issue of farmers’ suicides that resulted from high debt and poor yield of their crops. The price of onions, a staple in the Indian cuisine, also faced a dramatic price increase. In the run up to the election, consumer price inflation increased more than expected while, paradoxically, the industrial production fell by more than expected causing a dilemma amid slowing growth. The price of salt was also indicative of general food inflation.
ECOLOGICAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL ASPECTS
Earlier, the political leaders hardly spoke about environmental issues. Therefore, it was difficult to find a mainstream place for the ecological and environmental issues in the Indian political discourse. Now, one can see the change.
Besides issues related to the corruption, scams, unemployment, food, education, housing, water, electricity, roads and hospitals, environment and ecology have found a place, though not very prominently.
A comparison of the manifestos of the three most prominent parties battling at the national level – INC, BJP, and AAP throws light on where they stand in this regard. None of these parties refer to the sustainable development in forceful way; however, they offer a slew of environmental measures under the umbrella of sustainable development.
The AAP manifesto: It does not give any specific prescription for environmental governance. It broadly speaks about a mechanism for decentralised/ bottom-up governance structure and decision making on all resource allocations — from mining to exploitation of forest resources, to harnessing the renewable energy potential.
The AAP manifesto underlines the role of Gram Sabhas (village councils) in decision-making at their respective levels and their integration in the overall governance process. For example, the AAP manifesto talks about reforming “Ministry of Environment and Forests and its agencies so that they can empower and help Gram Sabhas to be effective custodians and managers of their local natural resources.” However, it does not throw much light on how such a reform will be achieved. In it, the concept of sustainable development finds a more balanced mention, at least theoretically, placing the three “E”s side by side — “equitable” and “ecologically” sustainable “economy”.
The BJP manifesto: On the other hand, BJPs guide for environmental management finds mention under the subject “industry” instead of “Flora, Fauna and Environment”. The emphasis on framing of environmental laws in a manner that encourages speedy clearances, removal of red tape and bottlenecks, is a sure indicator of diluted scrutiny of development projects at the time of clearance.
The manifesto speaks of developing a “hub-spoke model” at both the Centre and the state levels to simplify the clearance processes through a single-window mechanism. Though streamlining the process is certainly desirable for ensuring a timely and transparent decision making, a single window process without proper checks and balances — which the manifesto does not clarify — can also create a more general and biased understanding of the impacts of a proposed project and influence subsequent decision making.
It focuses on the management of natural resources with respect to more marketable commodities which can earn high returns, such as coal and minerals. Natural resources such as forests and water barely find mention.
The Congress manifesto: Like the BJP, emphasis on a business-friendly governance structure is also apparent in the Congress party’s manifesto. It clearly mentions that the party intends to streamline the regulatory structures and create a business-friendly environment. The idea of developing a single window clearance mechanism for all investors also is much in line with what BJP promises. A decentralised management system for forests and water resources finds a fleeting mention in the Congress manifesto.
The ruling Congress party’s election manifesto lists action-oriented goals to tackle them. This party’s manifesto calls for engaging tribal and forest dwelling communities more in forest management. Another important thing is the proposal to set up a professional agency (National Environmental Appraisal and Monitoring Authority (NEAMA) to conduct rigorous and time-bound environmental appraisals and recommend environmental clearances, where appropriate, in a time-bound and transparent manner.
The Congress has also other recommendations in its manifesto on environmental issues that are noteworthy: (i) it calls for engaging tribal and forest dwelling communities more centrally in forest management; (ii) it calls for setting up empowered, well-funded special purpose agencies to clean up major rivers, learning from the Ganga experience. This is useful, as the experience of the Ganga River Basin Authority has taught us a lot on what does and does not work; (iii) it calls for ‘Green National Accounting’ by 2016-17; and (iv) there are other generic suggestions – promoting water conservation and waste management, protecting biodiversity, accelerating the national solar mission and setting up a national wind mission, providing clean cooking fuel, etc.
Water: Water is a critical issue in India. Several activists and organisations had demanded from the political parties to include the community driven water management system and a river policy in their manifestos, but the proposal for management of water resources remains vague in all the three parties’ manifestos. The proposals for managing water resources refer to the usual phrases such as “conservation”, “efficient use of water resources” and “rain water harvesting”.
Comment: The manifestos of the parties do not hold out much hope to the deprived and the marginalised, with the exception of the AAP manifesto to some extent. The AAP manifesto says that “commercial exploitation of natural resources would be done based on a royalty and revenue sharing agreement with the local communities.”
It is regrettable that the Indian political parties, so far, have not developed a collective consciousness to address the broader green issues. Majority of Indian political parties do not think out of the box when it comes to ecology or environment. Contrary to this, the so-called mainstream political parties are embedded to the neo-liberal economic thinking. Whatsoever, the voters want real action-oriented plans and implementation on them. They are not at all impressed by the verbosity, rhetoricism, and hollowness.
In a nutshell, these are long-standing noble aspirations, which need to be pursued vigorously. The promises made in these manifestos are good political rhetoric, and the implementation part will be really difficult.
General conclusion: In any case, neither Congress party nor BJP is capable of winning majority of seats meaning the next government will be inevitably a coalition government. India’s fractured political landscape, with its dozens of regional parties, makes it hard to be sure. And, the generational shift underway in family-governed regional parties across the country will make coalition politics even more unpredictable.
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_general_election,_2014, http://blogs.reuters.com/india/2014/04/16/election-india-parties-manifestos/