Time for Indian voters to wake up & decide what they want

The 2014 Indian general election created history on many fronts. A staggering 834 million citizens were eligible to vote, of which nearly 554 million voters cast their ballots on Election Day at more than 9 lakh polling stations throughout the country. This amounted to a voter turnout rate of 66.4 %, the highest in India’s history of national elections. 

What the election exposed positively was a massive spike in public consciousness. Economic factors played an unusually large role in shaping voting behaviour. Traditional patterns of caste-based voting were much less evident, and some regional parties, often thought to be gaining ground, suffered a setback. 

A slightly deeper look at the polls reveal that these changes were not necessarily unique to the 2014 general election. There is evidence to suggest that many of these trends have been percolating beneath the surface for some time. What 2014 has done is to bring these trends to the fore of public consciousness.

Despite such rise in voter consciousness and public awareness of candidates and what they wanted, candidates from political families and dynastic politicians performed very well in the 2014 elections. The same can be said of politicians associated with criminal wrongdoing; as a percentage of India’s parliament, more politicians with criminal cases pending against them (including those of a serious nature) were elected than ever before.

But, over the last six years, politics and voting patterns have changed drastically. Economic progress hasn’t been on voters’ priority list in India, ever. The political environment currently is being driven by religion-based agendas while voters are being wooed through welfare measures such as easy access to subsidised essential goods, houses, household items and even plain cash, though government schemes. 

However, what is being left out in the process by leaders across India are basic health and education priorities which were usual considerations of any developed country. In a new BJP-led India, where the party has replaced the age-old Congress as the country's largest party, populist leaders and parties are finding electoral success even without delivering broad-based prosperity or development.

The new but dangerous cocktail of electoral success in India today is: leveraging the identity politics of the right, lukewarm response to market-focused neo-liberalism of the Centre, and appropriating the redistributive economics of the left. 

But, where and when should such populist schemes doling cash and materialistic goods to voters uninhibitedly stop and where should development start? Can the country sustain only welfarist schemes without focus on development? How can the world largest Democracy sustain if it keeps spending mindlessly while it doesn’t generate enough revenue to sustain itself economically?

This is where voters’ mindset needs a drastic shift — from short-term materialistic gains during elections to long-term development. From looking at freebies during elections, voters need to be conscious of the leaders they are choosing. Will this party or candidate in the state assure or bring jobs/investments or push for economic progress? Will he/she mean that education and health access will be made easy? Will our kids’ futures be better and brighter? Will we be provided opportunities to grow on merit and skill rather than recommendations based on caste/religion?

Every voter needs to re-think why they are choosing a party and how it will impact their own growth in future. Their planning and decision needs to be long-term, even driving politicians to change their approach to creating a vision for a state/country, delivering good governance and focussing on development while balancing welfare, simultaneously. 

So, guess, it is time for the Indian voters to stop fighting over caste and religion and at least now look at the economy and make a wise choice for the long-term? 

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