There is a saying: Never take the voter for granted. He is not such a fool as many would like to think. Take the recent elections to the US Congress. In 2004, in the House, Republicans won 232 seats to 202 won by Democrats. Similarly in the Senate, Republicans won 55 seats to the 44 won by Democrats.
Now look at what happened this November. In the House, Democrats won 230 seats to the Republicans? 196 and in the Senate the Democrats again won against the Republicans, 51 to 49. Admittedly the Democrats have a majority of just two, but they count. On the whole, the US Congress has a Democratic majority.
George Bush'sDefence Secretary, David Rumsfield had to resign. And it is likely that when the presidential elections take place, Bush will be shown the door. Reason: Iraq. Saddam Hussain may be hanged, but George Bush will be disgraced. It is a warning to every political party all over the world. The voter can be duped-up to a point. The warning is always clear: Do not cross the Laxman rekha.
The NDA government was doing extremely well in India but it allowed itself to be taken for a ride. The Government spent a fortune to publicise ?Shining India?. And it lost. Why? The reason was simple: Yes, indeed, India was doing well, but only a small segment of people benefitted by it. Progress and prosperity had not trickled down to the village level where the vote was. Rural India felt betrayed and made the NDA pay heavily for it. Now the UPA government is playing the same game.
Addressing a conference in Brussels and Belgium, Kamal Nath, Commerce Minister, boasted that India'seconomic engagement with the world during the current financial year 2006-2007 will exceed $ 450 billion, if exports and imports of goods as well as services are combined. India'strade with the European Union, he said, had gone up by 24 per cent and investments were increasing both ways. For tourist, he said, it is Incredible India! And for business it is Credible India. Great. But what Kamal Nath forgot to tell was that the service sector, which now makes up 54 per cent of the economy contributed more than half the total growth in the economy in the 1990s. This has nothing to do with village uplift or jobs for the poor. Rural India continues to be neglected.
In the countryside where 70 per cent of India'spopulation lives, the government has reported that about 100,000 farmers committed suicide between 1993 and 2003?all of them Congress?ruled years. Out of 400 million working population, only 1.3 million are employed in the Information Technology and Business Processing Industries that make-up the so-called New Economy. 1.3 million in a total population of about 1.2 billion people! Fancy the anger and frustration of the poor!
Despite a recent reduction in poverty levels, nearly 380 million Indians still live on less than Rs 50 a day, which is the price of a cup of coffee in a 5-star hotel. In terms of Human Development Index, India ranks 127, just two rungs above Mynmar and more than 70 below Cuba and Mexico. And its per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $728 is just slightly higher than that of sub-Saharan Africa. No wonder Congress has begun to talk of garibi hatao, the greatest joke and fraud ever perpetrated on the Indian populace. When it was first propounded, it captured the imagination of million of ordinary folk, giving Smt Indira Gandhi an over-powering two third majority in the 1971 elections. To prove that she meant it, Smt Indira Gandhi abolished privy purses, nationalised major banks and levelled down the princely class and in some Congress-led states like Karnataka, land reform was undertaken with a vengeance. But depriving the rulers of their privy purses didn'thelp the poor man in the villages?and there are over 380 million of them (more than the entire population of the United States)?to make a decent living.
What India requires is labour intensive industries which will provide jobs to the illiterate but sturdy people willing to work for long hours. Jobs must be created in rural areas, not in urban centres. The peasant must not be forced to go to Mumbai or other big cities to make a living in utter squalor. He must be provided a job in his own natural surroundings. Consider this: Despite the growing economy, 2.5 million Indian children die annually, accounting for one out of every five child deaths world wide. Is this garibi hatao? The ?Feel Good? factor will only make sense when rural unemployed feel good?not otherwise. Watch television: There are so many advertisements trying to sell costly cars and one feels not good but ashamed to view them. People felt cheated when Congress failed to hatao garibi. They felt angry when the NDA tried to sell ?Shining India??and the BJP paid for it heavily. What the average citizen wants to see and hear is an adult villager buying his child a cup of ice cream even once a month and to say that he has opened a bank account. That is progress, a way of life made possible by one man in Bangladesh who went on to win a Nobel Prize. How many such men do we find in India? Just as the average man wants a job, he also wants quick justice.
Does the UPA government know that as on December 31 last year a mind-boggling 2,92,10,015 cases were pending before the Supreme Court, 21 High Courts and their subordinate courts? And that there remain 2,886 vacant positions of judges as on April 14 this year?
In the Uttar Pradesh subordinate courts which have the highest pendency of civil and criminal cases, courts have still to deal with 44,58,861 cases. In Patna High Court there are 22 posts of judges to be filled out of 43 positions. This is a crying shame. So the advice to the UPA government is: Stop talking about garibi hatao. You will only be fooling yourself. Make people feel that jobs are available next door, that justice is delivered for the asking, that reasonable medical help is not a myth but a pleasant reality?and the vote is there for whoever makes these possible. The advice to parties is: Don'tbreak hearts, break barriers. Barriers of caste, barriers of education, barriers to decent living, barriers to self-respectability. It may take some time to break these invisible barriers but let it at least be seen that efforts are being made to break them.
The age of sloganeering is dead. The voter may be poor, but he is politically sophisticated?and let that never be forgotten. And it has been proved again and again even in illiterate India.