One of the most important aspects of the electoral process is the election manifesto, which lists out what a party intends to achieve if it is voted into power. Ideally, citizens are expected to peruse manifestoes and make the most important decision of whom they wish to vest authority in. However, since the manifesto is not a legally binding document, parties tend to make tall, and even irresponsible promises, which post elections are brushed off as ‘chunavi jumlas’ or electoral rhetoric.
The current administration has gone back on so many of its promises that it is difficult to single out the biggest jumla. Nevertheless, perhaps the most blatant of these jumlas is the promise of Special Category Status to be accorded to the state of Andhra Pradesh.
It may be recalled that when the previous government announced that the state of Andhra Pradesh would be given the Special Category Status for five years, the BJP led by its senior leader Venkaiah Naidu, demanded in the parliament that it be extended to ten years. In the election rallies of 2014, the promise of according Andhra Pradesh the special category status was made numerous times. However, once the elections were over, the BJP began dilly-dallying over the issue, even though in 2015 a man immolated himself demanding the implementation of the controversial electoral promise.
KVP Ramachandra Rao, a Congress MP from the state took up the issue regularly in parliament but his arduous efforts were met with much filibustering and disruptions by the ruling party. Finally, the government brazened it out and said that the state cannot be accorded the Special Category Status as it doesn’t meet certain criteria.
The sorry state of our democracy is such that our leaders were either not aware of the legal implications of their electoral promises or they wilfully cheated the people. The latter is more plausible as it is highly unlikely that veteran leaders are unaware about policy matters and elementary awareness of whether or not a state is eligible for Special Category Status!
For any relationship to be successful, there must exist mutual respect and trust. The same holds true in the political arena too which is essentially a relationship between citizens and the government. Hence when the citizenry is meek, disillusioned and alienated, it becomes susceptible to being exploited. Political parties often rake up emotional issues to digress from what could otherwise be constructive public discourse.
For instance, while parties claim credit for the creation of Telangana, (both TDP and YSRCP explicitly gave support in 2012), the blame of bifurcation is squarely put on the Congress. The media, instead of questioning this dissonance, and the jumla of Special Category Status, is busy being cheerleaders of the government. In a breach of propriety, the TDP administration recruited 25 journalists (on government payroll) to glorify the government. As such we have a society devoid of rational and objective voices.
The malaise of an inert civil society is something we must all ponder over. While politics is certainly murky, citizens not taking part will only make it worse. The remedy for bad politics is good politics and not no politics. Only when we as responsible citizens, (with or without political affiliations), debate issues dispassionately will we enrich public discourse, which is the bed rock of participatory democracy. Making the manifesto a quazi-legal document (allowing for contingencies that hinder implementation of promises) is cardinal to citizens being empowered to question governments about their performance.