Thursday, March 19, 2009

Don’t Just Vote, Make it Count - Become the SWING VOTER

There is a myth that the Educated Civil Society, being small in numbers, can not influence the electoral outcome. Consequently majority of us are not motivated to engage with the political class. Many of us abstain from voting because we believe that we are too small in numbers to change the ways of Indian politics.

However, a closer analysis will reveal that in this age of coalition politics, with so many parties and candidates, victory margins are very small. In fact, most MPs in urban centers win by margins of just few thousand votes.

4 out of 7 seats in Delhi were won by narrow margins in 2004 Lok Sabha elections - New Delhi – 12784, South Delhi-16005, Delhi Sadar – 15974 & Karol Bagh 37,629. Mumbai also had similar figures, 3 out of 7 seats were won by less than 25,000 votes - Mumbai South-10246, Mumbai – South Central-22188, Mumbai North Central – 13,329.

This is not true only for Metro, even smaller cities across the country have witnessed similar trends. Victory margin in Kanpur was just 5,638 votes, Nashik – 15,058 votes, Ranchi -15,421 votes, Allahabad – 28,383 votes and Bangalore North – 30,358 votes.

Another myth is that Indian politics is decided by rural India. Hence issues relevant to the city dwellers and educated civil society are of no relevance to political parties as they do not need urban votes to come to power. The fact is that 2009 Lok Sabha will have 120+ MPs (out of 543) from Urban Areas.

Just concluded delimitation of constituencies has dramatically increased the number of urban constituencies, which will further grow as India urbanizes. 120 is a huge number, given the coalition politics where Mrs. Mayawati, with potentially 50 MPs, will have the real possibility to stake the claim for Prime Minister’s post.

We also need to note that in 2009 elections we have more than 10 Crore First Time Voters, majority of them in urban areas. Compare this with the vote difference between two national parties, Congress and BJP in 2004 Lok Sabha Elections, just 98 Lakh votes of total 38.99 crore votes polled.

In 2004 Lok Sabha polls BJP got 22.2% and Congress – 26.7% of the total votes polled – 38.99 crores (58%) of total 67.15 crore registered voters.

ELECTIONs-2009 are DIFFERENT in many ways. Post 26/11 people are willing to get out and get counted. We have the real opportunity to MAKE A DIFFERENCE, this time around. So how do we do it?

Each major party and candidate have their own committed vote bank based on ideology, caste, religion, region or language which they nurture and hold by giving sops, favours, appeasement and promises.

However, during the elections, what all political parties need and fear the most are the SWING votes, which usually decide the winner. This number is not very large, specially in urban areas and presents an opportunity for educated civil society to come together and elect the candidate and party of their choice.

It is certainly not difficult to bring together 10,000-25,000 educated people in each urban parliamentary constituency as SWING VOTE BANK, who will vote based on the issues of “Good Governance & Economic Development”. If this happens, these ‘Educated Swing Votes’ will make every political party reach out to them and ask for their issues to be included in their agenda.

Now the question is, how do we organize these educated people, analyze & interact with major candidates/party and make an informed decision to VOTE with a real possibility of having a winner of our choice.

Use of technology will make it possible, Obama has shown it working. We are technology savvy and quick to adapt.

"Change India" –, has created a CHANGE platform, which you can join by sending an SMS - START CHANGE to 575758.

The target should be to get around 30,000 people in each of the constituencies across 25 cities of the country, accounting for around 60-80 MPs. Details of the candidates/parties will be shared via SMS and website and a deserving consensus candidate will be decided using a web & sms POLL.

We can make a BIG impact in the next Lok Sabha election and hold our winners accountable.

‘Choice is Ours’. Opportunity is NOW, as nation wants to bring a CHANGE in our political system.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Coalition ‘Tamasha’ – Are Two National Parties Losing the Plot ?

Tumkur (Bangalore) - 12th March-2009, The launch of Third Front.

This could be one of the most important and decisive day for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. It may be the first step towards our suffering in the hands of Opportunistic Coalition, conveniently disguised as the 3rd Front. This is a group of desperate political parties, with no ideological commonalities, coming together with only one agenda – how to control Delhi and serve their own vested interests.

Most comically, every constituent of the so called Third Front has a prime ministerial candidate. It seems the only reason, these parties are coming together, is the chair of the Prime Minister. Left being the only possible exception, as they have mastered the art of enjoying power without sharing the responsibility.

Left parties are a desperate lot, having been thrown out of power by UPA and with a real prospect of loosing heavily in West Bengal & Kerala. They are at the forefront of this Third Front ‘Tamasha’. Left leaders are accumulating frequent flier miles at an alarming rate running from one state capital to the other, begging regional satraps to put together this ragtag coalition with no common ideology or an agenda for the governance.

Both national parties and their respective coalitions, namely NDA and UPA, may not get enough seats to form the government on their own on May – 23rd. If so, this so called Third Front, whose constituents have mastered the art of opportunistic politics, will come to power and take this nation downhill.

This is not the first time that we are faced with such a dire situation. We have a short memory, and history may be about to repeat again.

In 1977, a coalition in the name of the “Janata Party” came to power but it disintegrated in just 2 years despite people’s disdain for congress and Mrs. Gandhi for imposing the emergency from 1975 to 1977. She was back in power in 1979 with a majority.

1984 was the last time when this nation gave a clear mandate to a national party when Rajeev Gandhi came to power with an absolute majority on a sympathy wave in the wake of the assassination of his mother, Mrs. Indira Gandhi. But he was done in by the Bofors scandal and his confidant, Mr. VP Singh.

1989 saw our first experiment with the coalition politics. Mr. VP Singh, who became the prime minister in a coalition government, ended up creating unimaginable social unrest in the name of “Mandal and Mosque”. He also succeeded in bringing the nation to the “Brink of Bankruptcy”. VP Singh was defeated and now long gone, but we are still suffering the scars of “Mandalization of Indian Politics”. We also had to pledge our Gold to avoid the payment default to international lenders, due to the economic mismanagement of Mr. VP Singh and his coalition partners in the preceding 2 years.

1991, people were fed-up and they gave congress the mandate to rule. Mr. Narasimha Rao ran the government and initiated economic reforms. The period from 1991-1996 was reasonably stable except for the episode of JMM being bribed to buy their loyalty to support the congress government.

1996, the nation again suffered the unstable coalition governments. We endured 3 Prime Ministers in 2 years including Mr. Devegowda who was ousted before he could settle in the power seat. Mr. I K Gujral followed as he was no threat to anyone and he departed without doing much, as was expected from him. Ms Mayawati brought down Mr. Vajpayee’s government when he lost the no-confidence motion by just one vote.

1999, people, fed-up with the coalition drama, gave NDA, led by Mr. Vajpayee, a decisive mandate. He ran a successful coalition government. This was the first time after 1989 that a coalition government completed full 5 years and credit goes to Mr. Vajpayee’s statesmanship and acceptability among the NDA partners.

2004, it was "India Shining" which got NDA out. But this time UPA coalition government had to use the crutches of the wily left parties. All through, left played truant and held the government to ransom. They enjoyed the trappings of power without sharing the responsibility of governance. This coalition did more harm than good as governance, development and reforms took a back seat while the government was busy managing coalition partners.

As we can see, ragtag coalitions have not worked in this country but unfortunately since 1977, we have to suffer them after every 5 year stint of a stable government. We seem to be heading in the same direction this time around too. But Indian electorate, especially the so called educated middle class seems to be apathetic and blissfully unaware of the looming danger.

But why only blame the electorate? What choices does he have?

I feel the blame for this dire situation lies with the National Parties too. They have been steadily loosing their vote share (BJP had 22.2% and Congress 26.7% in 2004 election) and they may loose even more this time around. But national parties have done precious little to stem this decline.

They have behaved like regional parties raking up emotional and religious issues, which no longer pay dividends. They practice dynastic and caste politics fielding candidates based on their caste and religion. They are devoid of a national agenda, a slogan which will appeal to the majority of this nation. They have no fresh ideas. They do not have role models who will appeal to the youth and the middle class.

National parties have failed to acknowledge the fact that the economic resurgence of India has created a class of society, a large potential vote bank, which believes in the politics of good governance & development. Since national parties do not have what appeals to this class of society, they have chosen to ignore them.

This has alienated their largest potential vote bank – the Middle India, 40 Crore strong and growing, which is educated, secular and wants good governance. This Middle India has lost faith in the current political class and thus have chosen to disengage. This explains the shrinking vote share of the national parties as they are not adding any new voters and at the same time they can not compete with the regional parties which survive and thrive on opportunistic local agenda including caste, region and religion.

Whichever of the 2 national parties chooses to reform itself and is able to engage with this Middle India by having an agenda and role models who appeal to them, will have the last laugh. If they don’t, soon they may no longer remain national parties.

The possible setback in 2009 elections may make them deliberate on a strategy to engage Middle India. Lets hope that having lost the plot, old thinking politicians of national parties will make way for the new generation with new political ideas and ideologies, which will appeal to the 40 Crore strong Middle India. That’s the only route to survival for the 2 National Parties.

I have seen traces of this realization in the BJP and am witness to their openness to engage with the 'Middle India.' Lets hope and pray that this tribe grows and succeeds, both within the BJP and the Congress, as "India Deserves Better"!