Maut ka saudagar, Shehzaada, Khoon ki Kheti, Pakistani Agent, Napunsak, Cockroach- this election season has seen some graceful use of the Queen’s language by integral contenders. To think one of the speakers might just be our next Prime Minister is in itself an intriguing thought. Even the quality of election rhetoric seems to have fallen this time around, and though most elections are about competitive spirit and aggression, this time around, it is war.
The need, here, is to understand that these elections might have become like a war but they are not. Elections are not just about two sides taking pot-shots at each other with their leaders being involved in dirty personal battles. They are not about which political leader gets which ticket and who sulks to eventually defect. They are not about which political entity will form the next government. Elections are not cold wars- they are about the people.
Over the years, we, the citizens of India, have become very used to this style of politics and have built a very rigid perception about what elections are and what changes they bring about during election season. Thousands of times have we said and heard the usual talk about the ‘promises’ made during the elections and how most of them are never to be fulfilled or even thought upon once the candidate comes to power.
But does each and every one of us know these promises? Do we know what the political party we favour claims it will do if it comes to power? Of course, we have the ever-so-truthful party manifestos (old-stale wines in shiny-new bottles) laying out the political party’s plan and course of action on major national issues and proposing policies (read freebies) for the ‘upliftment’ of the ‘lower’ sections of the society. Of course, a major highlight of these manifestos is the impossible deadlines for matters basically not in the government’s hands. Manifestos of even major political parties confirm the general perception about them- they think we are fools.
But the issues mentioned in national manifestos, which are the only ones most political parties release, are larger national issues. Doesn’t the electorate of each area and constituency have a right to know what its local candidates propose to change and introduce in their area? Does it not need to know what the candidate’s views are on integral issues in its constituency are? Candidates shouldn’t, and should not be allowed to, win on the basis of what their larger leader might have previously done. Neither is the “don’t vote for x party” slogan a very good substitute for inability and unwillingness to work, once in power. The average voter, too, needs to know whether the candidate being put up by a political party is able and whether he even proposes change in the constituency he wants to represent, or if his main purpose will be to serve as a sheep in the flock for his party in the Lok Sabha or State Assembly. If a study is ever done, it might as well yield shocking results about how many candidates actually address the public on issues when they campaign and how many win solely on the basis of road shows, padyatras and joined hands!
Here comes in the need for constituency-specific manifestos. Such manifestos carry utmost importance in bringing out a positive change in voting trends in our country and making voters more responsible and aware about the problems of his area and how his candidate wants to cure them.
Voting on basis of caste, relation or even solely the party is passé now. Criminal candidates with high winnability quotient can never turn out to be good legislators, and it is really a shame that we even make them those. It is issues we now need to vote and base our opinion on. It is the manifesto meant for our area that helps us decipher whether a particular candidate is serious about bringing about development or is contesting only on party name. It also makes it easier for the constituents to hound and pressurise their respective MP or MLA in case of the claims not materialising. This not only reduces the number of criminal and unqualified candidates put up by political parties, but also changes the very definition of ‘winnability’ and how political parties choose their candidate.
Judging by these very facts, it is pretty clear why most political parties haven’t released- and possibly won’t- area-specific manifestos. These documents lay the candidates ideology out in the open and expose it to open criticism. And while a controversial representative with no clear ideology or knowledge about his constituency is the last thing the public wants, the public knowing the candidate is weak in key aspects is the last thing a political party wants.
Thus, this dream of area-specific manifestos can only be realised if they are made mandatory for every candidate. The Election Commission has been known for taking powerful steps regarding electoral reform, and this step sure is a powerful one in itself [Sign the petition HERE]. Once the candidate himself declares what changes he proposes to bring to his constituency, he is forced to work on at least some of them for fear of the public and the opposition. The candidate need not tell us what the previous government did, but rather what he proposes to do to correct the supposed ravages.
National manifestos might contain useful information and ideas, but they are worthless since no one can directly approach national or state legislators for non-fulfilment of promises. A constituency manifesto is one to keep safely till the next election simply to keep a check on your local candidate.
Elections are fought not only to choose the next PM, but also to choose the next representative from your area in the Parliament or Assembly. It is this very representative who is supposed to raise your demands in the highest forum of discussion and debate in the country or state. It is only when all candidates, big and small, will strive (or be forced) to take care of the constituents they represent, that democracy will truly expand and flourish in our glorious country.