View: Outcome of Haryana, Maharashtra elections is predestined. Should one be worried for health of democracy?

But the ‘predestined’ nature of the contest ought to be setting off alarm bells. In the normal course, elections provide a vital reference point about the performance of a ruling party, or the acceptance of an alternative ideology.

Agencies
The BJP leadership may be speaking the language of the victor even before the first vote has been cast.
Should one be worried for the health of a democracy when electoral outcomes become predestined? Indeed, there’s little about the upcoming electoral contest in Maharashtra and Haryana that is not already fated.

First, the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance, led by chief minister Devendra Fadnavis in Maharashtra, will return to power, with possibly an even greater majority than it secured five years ago. Even in politically volatile Haryana, BJP chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar is strongly favoured to improve upon his 2014 showing.

Second, Congress will, in all likelihood, be once again nipped by the nettle of self-doubt that paves the road to political oblivion. Third, India will continue its brisk, and seemingly inexorable, march towards single partydom. In a country where governments have been metaphorically reduced to tears by the sting of the modest onion, BJP should improve its tally on October 24, despite presiding over an historic economic slump.


There are a variety of reasons why BJP has come to occupy a space thought to be, at least for the time being, beyond electoral reproach.

Party leaders will inevitably tell you that this is down to the prodigious ability of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to connect with the masses and BJP president Amit Shah’s mastery over the electoral ground game. But sceptics will say, with more than a pinch of derision, that BJP has weaned the public on a diet of divisive, hyper-nationalist populism to distract from its failures.

While the jury is out on these assessments, what is indisputable is that the Opposition, particularly Congress, has failed to provide an alternative narrative. Or even a viable platform for voters to register their disappointment with the NDA.
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The trouble is, with Monday’s elections just around the corner, Congress shows no signs of overcoming the crisis it finds itself in. A second successive electoral drubbing in the parliamentary elections in May this year hasn’t even led to introspection, let alone reinvention. Instead, Congress has fallen back on the old guard led by Sonia Gandhi. This, after her heir-apparent, Rahul Gandhi, simply abdicated the responsibilities entrusted to him after he became party president in 2017.

In quitting now, Rahul Gandhi hasn’t just disadvantaged millions of Congress workers, but also India’s voters. A democracy is only as robust as the quality of its Opposition. Dwindling prospects of the Opposition may be welcome news for BJP. But it is fraught with implications for India’s democracy and, more significantly, the voter.

The BJP leadership may be speaking the language of the victor even before the first vote has been cast. But the ‘predestined’ nature of the contest ought to be setting off alarm bells. In the normal course, elections provide a vital reference point about the performance of a ruling party, or the acceptance of an alternative ideology.

It allows the voter to assess whether the party in power has honoured its compact with the electorate. If a ruling party feels no pressure to provide a moral and temporal account of its time in office, it could be tempted to act beyond the remit of the ‘rules’.
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Is this why increasingly, policy decisions taken by the BJP-led NDA — like the suspension of Article 370, the successful move to criminalise instant triple talaq, or even the planned legislative thrust around the controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill —are at least perceived to be pushing up against the keystones of constitutional morality?

Irrespective of what the Supreme Court will eventually have to say on Article 370’s suspension, there’s little doubt that BJP will consider the mandate that it is expected to win in less than a week’s time as nothing but athumping endorsement of its policies. This is abundantly clear from stump speeches made by Modi and Shah that have focused on Article 370, the proposed Citizenship Amendment Bill and the National Register of Citizens (NRC). The duo has called on voters to elect the ‘decisive’ NDA — that, according to this pitch, takes bold decisions in the national interest, unlike others who bow to political expediency.
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In 2017, BJP turned the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls into a referendum on demonetisation. The Opposition — along with many experts — had raised red flags over the disruptive futility of the move. But the stunning victory in UP was taken by BJP and NDA as a sign of the public wholeheartedly supporting their ‘economic masterstroke’. But with the recent benefit of hindsight, many of those earlier supporters know how that went.

History has an unerring habit of repeating itself. BJP will do well to avoid the temptation of interpreting the prospective victories in Haryana and Maharashtra for more than what they will be: the weakening capacity of the system to hold it to account.

The writer is editor-in-chief, Times Now
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of www.economictimes.com.)
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