After nearly seven decades of democratic functioning elections in India offer more anticipation than excitement. They come at fixed intervals with a rather boring frequency and go almost unnoticed. The events that precede and follow the possible announcement of poll schedule bringing into force the ‘model code of conduct’ by the mandarins in New Delhi’s ‘Nirvachan sadan’ are all predictable.
The parties lure electors with promises of a trip to moon and back, declare their candidates and attempt to garner support by convincing the voters how the candidate fielded by each is more deserving of their blessings than all the others. The voter knows who is fighting for what and against whom. The battle lines are drawn clearly so that the choice the voters exercise is clear and informed.
Interestingly it is on this account that battle 2016 is different from the previous elections in the Gorkhaland region. For the last over two decades since the Gorkhaland issue occupied the center stage of electoral politics it has been clear to the voters as to which candidate represents which party and what in a nutshell is the stand of the concerned party on this core issue.
Irrespective of the broad based academic debate triggered in the recent past by some intellectuals on whether the ‘sensible politics’ of development should take precedence over the ‘emotional politics’ of identity and Gorkhaland for the common voter Gorkhaland is still ‘the issue’. The Assembly election of 2011 and Parliamentary election of 2014 have demonstrated this fact with unmistakable clarity.
While the voter still seems to be unwavering and unchanged it is the political parties who are blurring the battle lines on the eve of the forthcoming election for the state legislative assembly. The GJMM whose main plank for the polls still continues to be statehood for Gorkhaland claims to have received assurances of support from the Indian National Congress and the Left Front (LF) both of who have been against the demand when they were in power in the state. GNLF who is yet to declare its electoral strategy or even its candidates is engaged in loud thinking about alliance with the TMC by either supporting TMC candidates or seeking TMC support for its yet to be announced candidates.
JAP, the new party formed by old politicians with brand intellectual as their USP has turned out to be most intriguing, almost foxy in its approach. Claiming to be in support of the statehood demand the party in the same breath runs down the idea as ‘emotional politics’ exhorting the masses to opt instead for sensible politics.
Within hours of the declaration of poll schedule TMC declared JAP supremo Dr Harka Bahadur Chhetri as its candidate from Kalimpong. Though JAP and Dr Chhetri wish away the whole thing as a result of ‘miscommunication’ insisting that Chhetri is to contest from Kalimpong not as TMC but as JAP candidate, TMC claims to have announced his name in response to a written request he made to TMC to contest as their candidate. Significantly JAP or Dr Chhetri himself hasn’t yet denied TMC’s claims about a written request from Dr Chhetri. Nor has TMC expressed any regrets or apology for the ‘miscommunication’. Quite clearly, between themselves, JAP and TMC want to hold each other’s hand without appearing to be doing so to the voters.
In a democracy based on electoral party politics there is nothing wrong if a party, say JAP, joins hands with another party TMC as part of its electoral strategy. What is wrong is intending one thing and pretending another, denying what you are visibly doing. That amounts to misleading the voters with whose support the party wishes to climb up the power ladder. If electoral practices were to be covered under the consumer protection act such conduct would be termed as ‘mislabeling’ and attract severe penalties.
Some of my younger friends object to JAP being singled out for criticism for its convergence or alliance with TMC when GJMM is also receiving support from the Left Front and Congress who were as opposed to Gorkhaland during their ruling days as TMC is today. They also argue that GNLF too is toying with the idea of receiving or lending support to TMC and still not a word is heard condemning them. JAP they argue is a new political party that needs to be given a chance.
Here is my take on each of these arguments.
No, JAP isn’t a new party. Only the name is new not the politicians in it all of whom are old hands we all know.
There is a difference between GNLF, GJMM and JAP. Let us begin with GNLF. The party is open, honest and candid that it doesn’t support statehood for Gorkhaland and is instead for the Sixth Schedule status. TMC too is opposed to the idea of statehood for Gorkhaland and may be open to sixth schedule. There is thus convergence of views between the two parties. At least there is no divergence or contradiction in terms. In case of alliance between the two the voters know what they are supporting or opposing irrespective of whether they are voting for GNLF or for the alliance partner TMC.
In so far as GJMM is concerned it stands clearly for Gorkhaland. If any party, be it the Left or the Indian National Congress offers support for its candidates it is an implicit support by that party to the idea of Gorkhaland within the limited context. Situation would have been just the opposite had GJMM begged for support from these parties or had decided to support these parties in their bid for power in the state as a quid pro quo for the support these parties extend to GJMM’s candidates.
Now look at JAP. They claim to be in support of Gorkhaland and yet they enter into a general alliance with Gorkhaland’s sworn opponent the TMC. Where is the ideological convergence between the two? The alliance can’t even be justified in the name of development as the first priority overriding Gorkhaland. Just look at the manifesto of the TMC for these elections. Where does development of the region figure in it? The manifesto clubs us with jangalmahal equating us with the violence ridden red bastion of the Maoists with none of the development projects meant for the rest of the civilized Bengal meant for our region. When you look at the portion dealing with development achieved during the TMC’s past five years rule there is precious little to show for our region. (More on the analysis of the manifesto in my next write up).
In the backdrop of such confusing scenario can the voter be clear who and what he is voting for? For Gorkhaland which JAP claims it stands for or against Gorkhaland which their alliance partner TMC stands for? For development which JAP says is their over arching priority above Gorkhaland or for the deep descend from once promised Switzerland to now projected Jangalmahal that we find ourselves in as per the TMC’s manifesto?
Political parties owe it to their voters to get into the arena with their aims and objectives placed clearly for the voters enabling them to take an informed decision on who and what they are voting for. For the voters the election is a battle in which they wish to score victory for their aspirations. They turn out losers in spite of their best capabilities if the battle lines are so blurred. If the voters are losers political parties too become losers in the long run. It is time the parties realized this distant but hard truth.
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