India’s election fervor is gradually reaching its pinnacle. Amidst all the frenzy, it’s quite apparent that it’s not an easy election for the voters, irrespective of the candidates parties give or deny tickets. People are toying between emotions and reality. The choice is not easy.
However, the election is not devoid of strong issues. The issues are there but the opposition is unable to articulate it and the ruling combine is carrying out a vociferous campaign to project itself. For BJP, the biggest advantage is that in Narendra Modi they have a dynamic person as prime minister, who devastates all opposition moves. But there is also an emerging leadership, not so much in the ‘mahagathbandhan’ of opposition parties, but in the gradual rise of the Congress and the two siblings Priyanka Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi – soft new faces of Indian politics. They are trying to touch the core with old Congress linkages of regions, castes and communities. They are nudging the voters to rethink and have a look at financial, job and other statistics. They are marching on gradual rise of Congress votes across India. The Congress now has a government or is part of the government in five states–Punjab, Karnataka, MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh–with 21 percent of the population, up from two states with 7 percent population in 2017.
The BJP leaders are watching every step of the two Congress leaders. They feel that Congress has only to gain in major states like UP, an old Congress bastion, where it still has its sympathizers. Somewhere there is also an apprehension that Priyanka’s “Ganga boat-yatra” through erstwhile Congress bastion, may impact voters’ minds. Recently, Congress had two major symbolic gains. Amrita Pandey, who is BJP’s UP president’s daughter-in-law joined Priyanka Gandhi in Varanasi, a few days after the joining of Manish Khanduri, son of Uttrakhand BJP leader BC Khanduri. Other opposition parties being fiefdom of families are less into studying statistics. But Congress is gradually harping on to it. So far, the onslaught is soft but one that is difficult to ignore.
When it comes to the most pressing issues in the elections, the scenario is puzzling. With an emotionally-charged campaign, post-Pulwama, BJP is trying its best to cover up hard issues. The figures, however, are telling and much of it has come from draft reports of parliamentary committees, NSSO and CAG. The CAG has pointed out to a huge-off-budget financing of about Rs 4 lakh crore in 2016-17. It says it could pose fiscal risk in the long term in case the entity that raises the funds fails to meet debt servicing.
The jobs data row has led to quitting of a top statistician. As official figures of NSSO, considered reliable, were not available, so figures of a private organisation, CMIE, got credence. The CMIE says around 31 million people are unemployed, the highest since October 2016. There are also figures of male (earlier it were female) workforce reduction. The NSSO’s periodic labour force survey 2017-18 shows males account for 28.6 crore employed. Since 1993-94 when the male workforce was 21.9 crore it swelled to 30.4 crore in 2011-12. This indicates that fewer male were employed in 2017-18. It reduced even in rural areas.
In India, the unemployment rate, which measures the number of people actively looking for a job, has been updated only in this March, and it was 6.1 percent, up from 3.41 in December 2014. The World Bank reported it in the latest report. Overall, labour force participation dropped in 2017. Such figures are always a discomfort for the government, particularly when the elections are around. The government is coming out with figures of MUDRA loans. The banks, however, find these adding to the NPA and are reluctant to proffer it. The cash dole, once a strict no for the BJP, of Rs. 6,000 a year to farmers is a mixed bag. Farmers in Western UP and Maharashtra want that the sugar mills should not sit over their dues of about Rs. 25,000 crore and pay it. No one, however, denies that the cash dole is a relief post-demonetisation.
Is there a discontent? Apparently, it is not being noticed. Nobody is talking about it. The charisma of BJP leadership is covering it up. So, is the Congress connecting with the rural masses? It is certainly trying, but its worker base is weak and so is the reach. Wherever possible, it is sending messages or holding on to people’s issues.
The voter is silent. It does not mean people are not aware of their problems. This silence could be deceptive. The election is not bereft of issues. The economic issues are stark. Changing political scenario can make a difference. It only points to an all-out impending battle. The churning would help reshape the future.