Amidst all the hullabaloo of the Modi government coming back to power in Delhi, the question which needs to be asked is– does the politics, government or the change of government make the lives of the people better? Recently, I got an opportunity to take part in an all-India post-poll survey after the seventh and last phase of 2019 Lok Sabha elections, in which all thirteen Parliamentary constituencies in Punjab went to polls.
The elections took place on 19th May, and as part of a twelve member team, I travelled to Jalandhar and Amritsar to interview a randomly selected group of people on May 20th.
A clear emotion seen across all respondents was a prevailing pessimism towards Indian politics and the politicians; almost everyone’s first statement was about how most politicians are shoddy. Further, the interviewees held that the current lot of politicians works for its own benefits instead of the welfare of the citizens that it represent. They expected negligible positive change even after the 2019 elections– something rather contrary to the claims made by the apparently beloved politicians, about the various sacrifices they intended to make in the interest of the masses and the country.
They also recounted stories which talked about how a scrap dealer from the lower middle class became a politician and won the election, and now owns land worth several crores. It was also apprised that a past MP did not visit their area even once during his full term and neither did he respond to requests about their work. They concluded that after bearing the brunt of the greed of several similar politicians, they could hardly expect any positive outcome when experience has taught them that politics has become an arena of gaining power and money, instead of a means to equitable distribution of means and resources.
On the question of imposing faith in the government, most of the respondents replied in negative, and when asked if the government should take responsibility of all citizens, they unanimously agreed. Sadly, in contrast to the claims made by ministers and government officials of the widespread and permeating nature of their schemes, not even a single respondent said that they received the benefits from any of the government’s schemes regarding hospitalization, housing, bank loans and so on, despite being eligible.
Interestingly, none of the respondents stated religion as a dominant factor in determining their voting behavior, against the popular assumption that politicians are able to use religion as a major vote bank; most respondents preferred India as a secular country over any form of majoritarian or minority rule. Instead, they anointed issues related to their basic needs of housing, healthcare, education, subsidies, etc. as the deciding factors while voting.
National security issues and the Balakot strikes were hardly of any concern to them because they were more concerned about their day to day security over an abstract and dissociated concept national security. They were least concerned about phrases like ‘Main bhi chowkidar’ and ‘Chowkidar Chor hai’, as these were not linked to their daily lives and its related problems, and were unlikely factors in determining their vote. This is a disparity from the media portrayal of a leader or a political party in a particular light as being psychologically effective in rendering them as a capable leader in the public eye.
Finally, it can be inferred from the common theme of the interviews that to an extent voters have started giving more preference to the bread and butter issues over religion, caste and other artificial demarcations while making voting decisions: a change from past trends observed in the last few years. Voters have become prudent over time, thus maturing the democracy in India, which is also reflected in the high participation of women in voting– often equal to, or even more than men. Also, women have started making independent decisions about whom to vote and for what reasons, unlike in the past when they had to vote as per their husband’s or father’s directions.
Though the gap between the ruling class and the populace has widened further with time, it is still expected that the masses will become more vigilant with time, and will hold their representatives accountable for their words and actions. Only then can Indian democracy move in the direction of becoming a substantive democracy from its current status of a procedural democracy. Only then can the government or a change in the government instill faith and hope in the minds of the people, and make the lives of the common folk better.
Picture Courtesy – Boston University/India Research