Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Election time

Just as in the UK, the world’s largest democracy is also gearing up for the state elections. But compared to my experiences at home and applying the usual conventions, it is a rather curious democracy…..
Firstly, socialism is written into the nation’s constitution but each party and state has its own take on what that actually means in practice. For example, in West Bengal there's a selection of Marxist/Communist/Socialist parties to choose from, each with a slightly different offer from the left-wing political spectrum. Meanwhile, and despite the constitutional necessities, the country’s Government actually embraces a form of free market Capitalism! (And it’s been that way since the current Prime Minister was the Finance Minister in the early 1990s when India was nearly bankrupt and could no longer depend on the Soviet Union for support).
Secondly, the election posters are somewhat more in-your-face than the rather comparatively more discrete A5 poster boards that are used in the UK – they tend to be 10’ x 20’ advertising hoardings or larger and where the face is the most prominent feature - and usually there seems to be a sort of sub-competition over who has the darkest glasses or largest moustache!

Thirdly, the bribes. Whereas in the UK, there are very clear rules about inducing voters and those rules are taken very seriously, here it is considered almost rude not to give some gift in return for your vote. So there is a great selection of gifts on offer: kettles, bikes, toasters and microwave ovens, etc to tempt voters to get their support. But in an attempt to overcome the law against gift giving, a Party in Tamil Nadu seems to have devised a new strategy to bribe voters and hoodwink the ever watchful eyes of the Election Commission. Voters there are being ‘showered’ with plastic tokens of various colours which can be exchanged in select shops for gifts and household articles. “We have seized several tokens from various places. The colours indicate the value of the tokens which range from Rs500 to Rs5,000,” the new district collector said.

And finally there’s the ruling political dynasty. The largest and most successful party, Congress, isn’t a meritocracy but selection is by birth. The Party has been led by Nehru….and then his daughter, Indira…….and then her son, Rajiv…….and then his wife, Sonia……and next will be their son, Rahul.

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