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What choices does a voter have?

By Mahesh Vijapurkar
March 18, 2009 19:10 IST
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As a voter for the elections to the Lok Sabha for which the process has commenced, where do I stand?

Not to my surprise, nowhere.

Everyone, political pundits, newspapers, television channels and people on the street corners are just talking of political leaders, not even political parties. The discussion is about who is going to be with whom and who would not be. And amid that welter of confusing options, the candidate has to be picked.

No wonder, it is bewildering. Do I pick the Congress party? Its nominee may not be a candidate in the constituency where I am registered as a voter. Do I cast the ballot in the ally's favour? But what is the guarantee the partner would remain with the Congress through thick and thin?

Likewise, with the other major political parties in virtually almost every other state. Experience has shown that nowhere can a political party be trusted. Much less the leaders, especially of the smaller parties who are on a regional plank. They change sides much like one does underclothes.

So, the weather vane points to no definite direction. Nor can one go by the promises of a leader, however promising he or she may be. This confusion has become worse, thanks to the emergence of the so called Third Front whose other grand name could well be the Opportunist Front. And Telugu actor Chiranjeevi, with his Praja Rajyam Party is bemusedly talking of a possible Forth Front.

Take Mayawati, for instance. She has made it clear that she is with but not yet within the front that was launched in Tumkur, Karnataka. Who would be the prime minister can be decided in the post-poll situation. Till then, she is free to fight in virtually every constituency, grab a small slice of votes, spoil everyone's calculations, and then in the utter confusion that would prevail, unless the Congress or BJP lead their teams to landslides ask for her pound of flesh and leave the country tantalisingly close to an electoral disaster.

So till the numbers are out, Mayawati is not a prime ministerial aspirant. Jayalalithaa has also said the country should wait for the post-election moment to determine who should lead the nation. But is the respectable non-politician Mamohan Singh going to be the prime minister? One is not sure for depending on numbers, Rahul Gandhi may prop up. Who knew they voted for Singh in the 2004 elections when Sonia Gandhi was widely seen as the next leader?

The BJP does offer a clear alternative to the present dispensation but it is not clear if it can materialise because of the trouble with allies, with the Biju Janata Dal being the latest to create serious problems. One sees it weakening with in-fighting as well, the party seemingly having lost its way in the past five years.

So I don't know which party can turn up the required 271 number and I don't know which way the leaders of the smaller parties would turn for the best ideology they follow is opportunism. It does not matter if the opportunism puts the entire country into a logjam. What matters are the political gains to be made by the leader: hasn't Ram Vilas Paswan already said that if a Dalit had to be chosen, who better than himself?

One is not even clear the Shiv Sena would stand by its partner BJP if Sharad Pawar stood a chance to get the top job for he is a Maharashtrian. And Pawar has spoken of the widespread desire of the people of the state to have a PM from there.

There can be any number of such possibilities. Deve Gowda is another example of opportunistic politics. The list can lengthen. In the bargain, the post-election scene can force them to abandon everything they said they stood for while begging for votes.

So who does the voter prefer?

Would it depend on the spin doctors who would hop from studio to studio offering their services as talking heads on television talk shows from which the next day's newspapers take their cue?

Would it depend on the local felt needs and the ability of the candidate to deliver on them as an MP? And even if he does, would the party remain in the alliance of which he is a candidate?

Ideology? Going by the way parties are cobbling together the alliances, is there a believable, workable, enforceable ideology to vote for?

Leader? They are different from the parties the moment the opportunities come their way, never mind the political morals or the promises made before the voters were wooed.

An alliance? There is no guarantee that an alliance would remain once the results are out.

A candidate? He does not matter unless his single vote can make or unmake a government.

The problem is, not one of them is a people's candidate.

Hmm. The voters are not exactly spoilt for a choice, are they?

So, 2009 may be a déjà vu of 2004

Mahesh Vijapurkar is a former deputy editor, The Hindu

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Mahesh Vijapurkar