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Shashidhar . S. Kapur

This is the dullest election that I’ve seen in a long time – at least fifteen years- in Madhya Pradesh. Barely a few weeks away from polling the only buzz is in rural areas and media / social media. Media coverage is often misleading – everything looks larger than reality .This is a paradox given the fact that it is the toughest challenge that Shivraj has faced – from a combination of anti- incumbency and united Congress. Scratch a little below the surface and it is clear that war is on – only the approach has changed .BJP has chosen to do surgical strikes instead of an all out war fearing collateral damage while Congress has taken to tactical battles rather than a scorched earth policy do avoid snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. The battlefield and weapons too have undergone a change – with cyberspace and dark aspects becoming key. This too would appear to be paradoxical to the conventional eye – for, the logic is whenever there is greater competition- due to multi-polar contests the agenda should improve; unfortunately, in underdeveloped areas the opposite happens – real agenda is scuttled and emotive, peripheral issues become centre-stage and the lowest common denominator of populism becomes the manifesto. That is precisely what is happening in Madhya Pradesh.


On all big issues both the major parties have adopted similar stands and on all major scams they’ve really not gone for the kill- being co-opted. The issue of agrarian crisis has been simplified by both parties to a one point agenda of loan waiver or interest free loans. No comprehensive vision or roadmap is brought out – to double the income by 2022 for instance. It was precisely this lack of vision which led the current state wherein Shivraj government couldn’t anticipate the bumper crops crashing markets for seasons on end and to take preventive steps like building storage facilities .The issue of unemployment – with a crore of unemployed youth- is also superficially addressed without a realistic plan. Nor is the issue of Education sufficiently highlighted despite VYAPAM and ASAR / PRATHAM reports placing the state at the bottom rung. They’re peddling an omnibus term “development”- without ever explaining what each party means by it.

Likewise, on all key concerns they’re treading a consensual path. While Congress has taken to soft Hindutva , BJP has initiated soft secularism -Modi interacted with Bohra Muslims recently and Shivraj visits Mosques s on festivals while Rahul Gandhi is perpetually temple hopping. Environmental concerns and illegal mining are almost totally off radar. Over 48 lakh malnourished children do not appear as a major concern – perhaps since they aren’t voters. As for topping in crimes against women and human trafficking, it doesn’t come anywhere centre stage. Instead, sectional concerns such as prevention of atrocities act and reservation in job promotion grab major time and space. As they’renotional concerns the parties do not have confront any unpleasant data.


Even though parties –esp. Congress -had said that they’ll announce candidates in advance – nothing of the sort happened – for the fear of poaching. As it is they speak only their “Man ki Baat”- pushing their own agenda rather than listen to people’s agenda.


Manifestos have become mere photo-ops: it ranges from BSP not declaring a manifesto at all to AAP having a manifesto for each district (the last time out). Various spins are given on nomenclature – from Sankalpa patra to Ghoshna Patra to Vachan patra. In essence, they’re all competitive populism. The worst part is that the manifestos are published barely a few days before the voting- giving hardly any chance to an ordinary voter to read them, much less discuss their details.


Though leaders talk of a vision and a roadmap they hardly come up with one. Tokenism of taking suggestion from people ending up in a mere compilation by bureaucrats. The end result is merely a wish list masquerading as a vision- with numbers not adding up and priorities all jumbled.


So, when voters aren’t aware about the candidates or about the manifesto – most voting is on belief / faith than informed / educated views/ opinion. No comprehensive report card or a vision is brought out by the civil society. Changing a host of candidates at the last moment confuses voters even further besides the turncoats – he’s left to the guidance by vote brokers. Each party copying the other party’s iconic leaders further befuddles him. Party managers parrot the term “winnability” as the sole criterion for choosing a candidate- what about “winnability” of a party from a particular seat irrespective of the candidate ? What about making a point – by giving more tickets to minorities and women for instance?
In a scenario where Agenda is narrowed down, the average voter is left with no real choice. Whichever way he votes – any party or candidate – he’s going to roughly get similar agenda and governance. While it is good in a sense that the boat doesn’t rock too much but the downside is that the power equations do not change – they’re merely realigned. You get a more populist government, focused on short term aspects and delivering low hanging fruits. The voter only realizes this in the middle of the term when the gap between delivery and promises hits him. If post that point the government in power is able to curb the dissatisfaction below the boiling point they get another term .Polity seems to have come a full circle since independence – then there was hardly any opposition. In fact, there was no opposition party when Madhya Pradesh was formed.


Only in “dark” aspects is there some differentiation- more “veto” than vote, tactics more than strategy, running down the opponent more than presenting one’s plus points. When no movements have been built, no agitations launched, it is but natural to try and build an undercurrent and create some churning- usually by passionate issues and emotive concerns. It is true that dark aspects prevail roughly in the ratio of development but in the current Madhya Pradesh scene the degree of darkness is far greater than its level of backwardness.


Elections have been dulled by aping the tokenisms of the west without addressing the substantive issues. For instance limiting the expenses of candidates without limiting the expenses of the parties. It has become more of a Public party than people’s festival – which it used to be. Minor changes are introduced in the process-like introduction of VVPAT- but no discussion on the systemic issues viz. limiting the terms of a CM/MLA.


The elections seem to be fought only for the politicians, their workers and direct beneficiaries. The vast remaining middle classes, non- vote banks have almost been disenfranchised. It is in continuation with the treatment meted out to the minorities. Accountability and responsibility is only to parties/ money banks and vote contractors/voters – the remaining can have welfare at most and forget about progress. They’re reduced merely to voters from citizens . Workers have become mercenaries – in the absence of political acculturation-shifting parties at the drop of a hat. There is much greater corporatisation – workers operate like robots, members are controlled by whips and views aired exclusively thru spokespersons. People know more about the CM than their neighbourhood legislator. Alliances get scuttled due to the fear of brokering post results- ideology, commitment , dedication is nowhere in the mix. Data controlling and info management is the key rather than building movements, carrying out struggles, agitations.The voter is made fickle minded and scatter brained by constant bombardment of messages and continuous in –your- face campaigning. Some parties / leaders remain in electoral mode thought their term precluding anti-incumbency; but what about pro-incumbency? In other words , the voter is not allowed to think or realize – he is made a robot and moron .We are living in a world where robots/ algorithms/ social media tries to convert us into morons and morons / Babas/Politicians try to convert us into robots. A case in point being the fact that bitterest battlest are fought over fake social media posts ; likewise, Kamalnath importing Sadhus f rom Ayodhya ( in previous elections) and Shivraj giving ministerial berth to Babas is not exactly a compliment to the intelligence/ common sense of voters.


Campaign too has undergone change- it is much more theatrical than realistic. It is designed in Post truth world with alternate facts; hype and hyperbole are the norm rather than exception. Same strategist works for different parties in different elections- it is a virtual strategy. Crowds are imported from other states/regions; many a time interchangeably. Image rather than personality is everything with Fake profiles, bought likes and an army of virtual followers. Movements are sought to be built in virtual space by creative news trending and doctored viral videos. Media is used for manufacturing consent social media for midwifing dissent in the opponents.


On its part, Media instead of complementing and supplementing the agenda tries to set the agenda or subvert it .Instead of moderating and calibrating the debates it makes them shriller and polarized. There is whole lot fake news, planted stories, phoney debates and discussions. Branding is by name-calling; Political campaigning through sloganeering, ditties, verse, song, and biting simile, metaphor, and name calling is as old as the hills. Social media just extends the reach and increases the pace. It also makes it easier than before to rebut.


Thus Madhya Pradesh will have only a change government –the system will retain status quo. The establishment will only doing the same things albeit for a different set of people and/or in a different way. Even after the elections only a handful of people / bodies will decide major policies, a select bunch of bureaucrats and many non- state actors will control it bypassing the elected representatives. Adhocism would be the rule rather than exception. It is a government of minority, for the minority and of the minority – albeit a powerful minority .We will only select a Pradhan Sewak instead of a Chief minister- cum- Pradhan sewak (Of the rich /powerful and poor/ weak respectively); we will elect only our Pratinidhi and not Leader-cum-pratinidhi. As it is, national governments got weakened due to globalisation who in turn weaken the state governments -they emasculate Panchyats in turn. In a sense Madhya Pradesh is becoming an internal colony – bigger states and power leaders/ organisations corner the major chunk of the pie. Cyclical change in governments-without change in system- will be a substitute for real change. There would be non- participatory/pseudo-participatory (Participation in minor concerns alone) governance with jobless growth.


How did this situation come about ?


An entire generation of leadership at local level was stunted with CM hogging all the limelight throughout. Anti incumbency was cleverly directed to local leaders/ MLAs – who became a disposable commodity in every term. Money rather that time has becoming the currency of politicking / electioneering. If you have the moolah everything – from strategists to crowds – is available at a price .On the one hand there is corporatisation of the structure and on the other hand increasing role of dynasties. Opposition is easily co-opted in the post – ideology politics.


Role of capital and technology have totally overshadowed the role of Humans and ideas. This has meant that almost the entire focus is on material / physical development and human resource languishes. To add to the woes almost all the govt. contracts go to a select few and there is an oligoppoly. Since most governments are running huge debts they have become land / resource grabbers – by acquiring prime land / resources and passing them on to private people. The conventional wisdom of democratic governance is that it is for the maximum good of the maximum number and maximum risk of the strongest; in the current scenario it is about the maximum good of a minimum number and while gains are for a select few, risks are borne by the masses. For instance, a handful of individuals/ corporations grab the expensive projects in Smart cities while masses have to foot the bills for decades. The point is ,did the people ask for it ? The trend however is to enumerate the works of the goverenment without clarifying whether it was one of the promises or did people seek it? Instead that work is delivered which wasn’t promised and succor provided to others than the ones who sought it. Thus we have a case of majoritarian/ totalitarian governments and authoritarian/ autoc ratic leaders.


It defies logic – the paradox is that with increasing income and education the system should’ve improved. Instead it has become almost a farce. From Government of the people, by the people and for the people it has become govt of the rich/powerful, by the rich/ powerful and for the rich/powerful. For the others, it is lollypop and jhunjhuna democracy. Vote tantra instead of Lok Tantra; Selection instead of election. Come what may , in any scenario


Kamal will not lose –Whether Kamalnath or Kamal

Shiv will not lose –Whether Shivraj or Shivbhakt

Scindia will not lose -Whether Jyotiraditya or Yashodhara

Mayawati will not lose- she will be in the winning camp.

BJP will lose- even if the party wins, it’ll be with a reduced majority.


Congress will lose- even if the party wins, it would’ve made too many compromisesMadhya Pradesh will lose-In the current scenario; headroom for any govt. will further shrink.

Citizens would lose- They will not get what they asked for or what was promised; instead what the parties / leaders want will be thrust upon them.


With virtual candidates, virtual agenda we are moving from virtual elections it a virtual democracy



It is not as if this is happening in Madhya P radish alone. This is part of a global change in the election process. It has both positive and dark trends-while the enlightened voter gets empowered the governments become even more powerful vis-à-vis the not so enlightened ones..The most worrying point is that the darkest aspects of global trends are the first ones to gain currency at the hyper-local level- particularly in underdeveloped areas. In that sense the elections in M.P. are being heavily meddled in- from benign looking friends of MP kind of groups in the virtual space to the money pumped by global corporations.
How does one go about addressing this ? The onslaught of Capital and technology can only be countered with the strength of civil society and ideas. To begin with, citizens have to be educated about the real issues, hidden agenda – in particular the first time voters. Senior citizens can play a great role in this. Apolitical citizens and organisations must pool in resources – both human and material to both do public accounting and social audit o f the establishment. One you enlighten Youth, women and marginalised the political narrative would have to change. Seek a space for independent politics – free from corporate and Dynasties. In fact there ought to be a movement for reserving seats for Independent/ apolitical candidates.


The paradox of rising income and decreasing democracy will not be solved by mere tinkering- it calls for a systemic overhaul. Having merely “ Indianised system” will not do ; we need ‘ An Indian system of elections”.


While systemic changes like holding simultaneous elections could be a long drawn process some minor reforms could be considered:
Limiting the expenses of parties (not merely candidates)
Do not allow change of parties after the declaration of model code of conduct –it diverts attention.
Only manifestos be discussed after model code of conduct –so as to have positive politics- whatever charge sheets/ report cards have to be debated must be done before the model code of conduct.
Declare candidates at least three months (ideally one year) before the elections- on the same day.
Publish manifestos at least three months (ideally one year) before the elections- on the same day.



Some Ways in which MP_- 2018 is different
(Though every election is different)

* For the first time, a Multi-polar election in the true sense- with 5 parties ( BJP, Cong , AAP, BSP & SAPAKS ) fighting on all 230 seats.

IMPACT– Positive: Differentiation of polity is a positive sign.

Negative -With competition the level of discourse goes down in underdeveloped regions like M.P.

Way Out: Make the registration/ recognition of parties a little more difficult.

* The twin electoral techniques are -controlling the data and managing the info/headlines.

IMPACT: Positive: The enlightened voter has much more data/ info to theorise/ analyse.

Negative – The passive voter is being converted to a robot and/ or moron.

* Many more professionals & bureaucrats entering the fray-SAPAKS, AAP,JAYAS

IMPACT: Positive: The narrative improves.

Negative – With little or no cooling off period they’re self serving than in the service of people.

* Much more flow of cash (this is trend worldwide for sometime).
IMPACT: Positive: Weeds o ut non- serious candidates

Negative- Converting democracy into an oligarchy.

* Much greater use of social media

IMPACT: – Positive: Empowering tool for the marginalized, disenfranchised.

Negative- Midwifing dissent, spreading misinformation, vicious personal attacks – easier than ever before.

* Enhanced Caste weightage in seat allocation.

IMPACT: Positive: Minor castes too get a voice as part of the Mahingathbandhan (of smaller castes)

Negative- Shift onto passion politics is a sure recipe for populism.
* Enhanced role of religion/ spirituality.

IMPACT: Positive : Polity veering towards Sarvadharma Sadbhava from the religion neutral/ negative secularism.

Negative- hegemonistic approach of a single religion would lead to a pseusdo- theocratic state.

* Tribals using / being targeted via smartphones for the first time in a big way.

IMPACT: Positive : Detribalisation / westernaisation of the tribals
Negative- Over aspirational politics may lead to discontent.