Elections 2009: A forsaken mandate

Written by Nistula Hebbar | Nistula Hebbar | Updated: Dec 18 2011, 07:50am hrs
There is a certain irony in reading this book on Indias 15th General Elections. And the sense of irony strikes one in the introduction itself. Penned by one of the editors of the book, Paul Wallace, the introduction begins with the following line: Indias electorate emphasised political stability and governance coherence in the 15th national elections in 2009. Contrast this with an open letter written by Indias top corporate heads to the PM just a few weeks ago, which decried the policy paralysis gripping his government and you have irony all gift-wrapped and handed to you.

Today, it is indeed a different world from 2009 in more ways than one. Wallace describes the mandate for Manmohan Singh as one for integrity, continuity and competence, quite at contrast with the scam-tainted government of 2011, battling graft charges on all fronts and struggling in a post- 2G-scandal world.

Nevertheless, Indias 2009 Elections: Coalition Politics, Party Competition, and Congress Continuity provides some interesting insights into an election which was the first in recent history to be devoid of high decibel emotional issues, and in the era of coalitions gave a more or less decisive mandate for the Congress and its allies at the Centre.

The book is divided into thematic parts that range from the demographics of the electorate and their electoral behaviour along gender and caste fault-lines, to federalism. But there are also five separate case studies of alternating two-party systems of individual states: Kerala, AP, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Rajasthan.

Multi-party states like Bihar and J&K are dealt with separately.

Analytical case studies of one-favoured party systems in Gujarat and West Bengal complete the round-up.

The volume is rich in data and inferences that are interesting. Of special note is Christophe

Jaffrelots article on the BSP in 2009subtitled, Still making progress, but only as a Dalit Party. In this article, Jaffrelot looks at the BSPs performance, and not just in UP where its spectacular results in the 2007 Assembly polls encouraged prospects of a repeat performance. But Jaffrelot also offers a prescient SWOT analysis on where the BSP has since gone wrong.

According to Jaffrelot, wherever party cadre were ignored and the richest candidates or even very new candidates were given tickets in place of the old faithful, the party came a cropper at the hustings. Where candidates were people with well-known criminal backgrounds too, the electorate rejected the candidate. As the next Assembly polls loom large on UP, Mayawati could do well to keep these insights in mind.

Binoy Shankar Pandey, in his study of the election results in Bihar, has gone into the details of all major constituencies. A detailed look at the number of votes leads him to some startling and interesting conclusions. In his conclusion, Pandey says that 80% of the winning candidates in the state have polled less than 50% of votes in their constituency, raising questions over the kind of mandate won. In Canada, the author notes that all such voters, who fall in the majority of voters but have not elected the winner of the contest, are called orphan voters. He goes on to suggest that in such situations, the top two frontrunners should fight it out in a run-off, settling the matter of the majority more comprehensively. As electoral reformsincluding the right to recallare set to be discussed among major political parties, could this suggestion be taken on board Wouldnt it provide a welcome break from the ambiguous mandates of a first-past- the-post system

The editors of the book, however, refuse to have a pessimistic view of the world after 2009. I wouldnt term the present situation a betrayal of the mandatethat is too strong a word to usebut rather say that expectations have outstripped performance, Wallace told FE.

Co-auditor Ramashray Roy on his part explains the policy paralysis of the government, despite a strong central party leadership within the coalition at the Centre, in a more idiomatic fashion. Our political masters are so busy trying to stay atop the horse that they barely have time to make it go anywhere, Roy told us.

Despite how much the political scenario has changed since 2009, there are certain basic themes that will continue to be relevant in the years to come, say the editors. One of these themes is the role of the regional parties. The thing to watch out for is how long regional parties will survive, looking at the federal thrust of our structure. In the last few years, regional parties have used national parties at the Centre to remain relevant in their areas of strength. But how long will such compulsions over accommodation last, where the Centre still has control over resources Coalition governments at the Centre will keep regional parties regional, but it is a trend which bears watching, said Roy.

In all, Indias 2009 Elections is an informative volume, not just for facts and figures but also for analysis, keeping some broad themes of Indian electoral politics front and centrebefore it gets obscured by the cacophony created by the sheer size of Indian elections.