INDIA'S ELECTORATE

Voters in India are quirky. Given the recent results of the election in seven states, they proved once again that they cannot be taken for granted. As usual they read between the lines and saw through the fog of words from competing political parties. They voted as they pleased. This time they voted overwhelmingly for BJP. But that is not an end in itself. Should BJP fail to produce results, they can take the power away from its hands. They did it in the past and they can do it again. On the other hand they did not discard Congress Party completely. In Punjab they gave it a life line.

Uttar Pradesh is the biggest prize BJP got in this election. Yet, a few weeks ago there was a big hue and cry for demonetization of the program of the Modi government. Businesses small and big, middle class citizens as well as day labors seemed to hurt because the government rendered rupees of 1000 and 500 denominations useless. Given the difficulties ordinary folks suffered there should have been a desire to punish Modi. One logical way would have been to make him look weak. But the BJP very shrewdly let it be known that the government's painful program was for the good of the people and that such a painful process was necessary because it cut down corruption. "Rich people with black money could not hide their loot. They had to come out. " it said. As a result tons of black money came under the Government's account and their owners paid taxes. People were aware of this and they approved such action. Unlike Bihar's Nitish Kumar, both Mayawati and Akhilesh fell short. They could not sway enough voters in their favor. Yogi Adityanath, the current Chief Minister seems to be quite different from both of them.

Uttar Pradesh has a history of handing the chief minister position to unusual people - Dr. Sampurnanda and Sucheta Kriplani come to mind. Now Yogi Adityanath, a long standing member of Parliament. A Pracharak for the RSS he has been chosen as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. Therefore, Adityanath whose organizing and effort brought BJP to power in the state was naturally chosen to become its Chief Minister by another former Pracharak Narendra Modi. Adityanath is known to be a right wing firebrand. Now that he is the elected head of his state, he must act as chief minister of all the people. Taking a page from Modi's own life could help. Modi is forever blemished for the Godhra incident. However, as Prime Minister of India he has shown a certain sophistication about communal conflict. The same may be true for Adityanath.

In the past, there have been ascetic chief ministers at various states such as Uma Bharati in Madhya Pradesh, Ajay Mukharjee in Bengal and Kamraj Nadar in Tamil Nadu. But their personal piety did little to influence the population of their respective states. Therefore, Adityanath's emergence in Uttar Pradesh is hardly going to change anything. At the beginning there may be some ripples. But the bureaucracy has its own way of swallowing the political do-gooders. None should be surprised if and when that happens in the U.P.

One of the interesting things that happened in this election was in Manipur. The iron lady Sharmila with a lot of fanfare stood in the election against a former Chief Minister. She was soundly defeated. Sharmila's sacrifice for the cause of Manipur's women is exemplary. She protested against the special power of the military in her state and fasted for 16 years to prove her point. During those years, she was being force fed by a tube through her nose. However, election is not about philosophy or sacrifice. It is all about numbers which also depends on organizing. In that respect Sharmila should have calculated her opponent's strength versus her own. At a different constituency she might have won. Who knows? In frustration she has declared that she does not want to get involved in politics anymore. But that is sour grapes. Of course, standing in the election is not the only way one can make a contribution. There are many who have remained engaged in civic life in India without getting involved in politics. Sharmila could be one of them. The constructive work needs people like her.


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