Now that elections are announced, there will be a shower of promises, some will be fulfilled, many will not be and not always because of bad faith. After all, if only we promise less and deliver more, the politics of performance will take over. We will not have to raise any issue that may cause dissensions, make myopic promises, and live in the bankrupt future.
Assume that a party makes a promise of raising water charges, ensuring that water is used judiciously so that declining water table is checked in the interest of future generation and sustainability of resource use. Will it get enough votes? Even if this can be achieved without reducing current productivity. Assume further that this party also promises that when it raises any commodity price, it will also raise minimum wages for the workers and try to enforce it appropriately. It will argue that farming crisis is not just because of lesser prices but because of non-sustainable land, water use, non-sustainable crop rotation, excessive use of chemical pesticides, lack of in situ value addition etc., will it wash with farmers? Workers: who cares anyway? With a reduction in guaranteed employment and even casual employment, workers are going through much higher stress than farmers. But a protest by workers doesn’t evoke the same feeling in society as the one by farmers. It is paradoxical that those who suffer most are expected to bear it, also the most.
There are many issues on which voters may not take a longer-term view. It is well known that when one appoints a mediocre as head of a higher education institution, nothing much has to be done to ensure deterioration of the standards. And no political party may assure voters that it will ensure that only the best get chosen for the purpose in the interest of brighter future of the youth, and higher quality research. Indian democracy is blamed that voters don’t incentivise long term thinking, more amiable culture and respect for institutional integrity. But it Is not true. If the institutions about which we are the proudest today, in space, technology, defence, education etc., were designed during the time when electorate was much more illiterate and much less experienced in voting, what does it say about our democratic maturity?
How can we change the situation? How can fairness and merit count for more, how can politics be made cleaner, how can better repayment ethics be created in the banking sector? How can sustainability be put higher on the agenda? How can consensus be created so that we don’t debate on basic agreed principles but debate the alternative pathways of reaching those goals? Primary education in government school is designed to create second class citizens of the country. Why can we not have a consensus on basic reforms in primary education which affects the poorest?
We know that small and microenterprises are also under tremendous stress, and given federal nature of the state, game of oneupmanship will not generate enough synergy between central and state policies. Odisha recently did what no other state has done so far: mapped all the farm machinery innovations in every district. Can we not scale it up at the national level? How can all good ideas emerge from one place or institution? We need to change the nature of electoral discourse. No tolerance for hatred, violence, and discrimination. If Gujarat gave so many students fellowships for entrepreneurial ventures, let other states follow it up and do better. If industrial policy in this stage has delivered better results than many others states, If Kudumbashree in Kerala is a model worth emulating for women-led enterprises, if Jammu and Kashmir, Tamil Nadu, Himachal, and Uttrakhand have better performance in overcoming child malnutrition, then should we not pool learning from these and many other successful programs for the larger national good? Let the festival of democracy unleash more positive energy for the larger social good, let the secular character of India become stronger and let the future not be discounted for short term gains.