Time to end the Post Poll Alliance Plot!

Ever since H.D. Kumaraswamy became the Chief Minister of Karnataka through a post poll alliance between his party JD(S) and the Congress, he and Karnataka have been in the news, mostly for all the wrong reasons. From the wrangling over members of the cabinet, allocation of ministries and decision over waiving of farm loans, the so called “Unconditional” support of the Congress to the JD(S) has come with the “Conditions Apply” water mark! This is a coalition government formed after elections where, the Chief Minister in his own admission is at the mercy of the Congress which won more seats in the assembly and one that he fought a bitter battle against, during the elections. This has brought to the fore the moral legitimacy of a post poll alliance and the raison d’etre for this post!

This sort of a post poll arrangement is not the first and constitutional provisions remaining the same, will not be the last either. In the last few years, we have had similar post poll alliances being cobbled up in Maharashtra between the BJP and Shiv Sena and in Jammu & Kashmir between the BJP again and the PDP. In Bihar, we had the pre-poll alliance partners JD (U) and RJD coming together, winning, forming a government successfully only to fall apart in just under 2 years. The same JD (U) has now got into an alliance with the BJP, which it fought intensely against during the elections and is now running a coalition government! One glance at the political situation in all these states presents a similar and not so encouraging picture. Of an unease, under the veneer of partnership.  Of open differences in day-to-day functioning, even after coming to power with an understanding of a common minimum programme.

In Maharashtra, though the coalition government has been in power for more than three years now, there have been serious differences between the BJP and Shiv Sena on the vision, programmes and the idea of development.  The Shiv Sena opposes these in the media for public consumption while continuing to be a part of the very cabinet which takes these decisions. There cannot be a bigger deceit on the voting public than this!

In Jammu & Kashmir, the coming together of BJP and PDP was itself a very strange occurrence. Here were two parties who ended up with complimenting geographical presence (PDP in the valley and BJP in Jammu, Ladakh area) but with different ideological outlook to the state. Not surprising that decisions related to governance like handling of militancy and response to the ground situation,… were viewed through their respective ideological prisms and were subjected to pulls and pressures.  Not surprising again, that the alliance finally broke off last week!

In Bihar also, we keep hearing of murmurs of rumblings under the still surface of the Kosi River!

In all these states, it is indeed a legitimate democratic process that threw up hung verdicts which essentially reflected the mood of the public. And hence it may appear that the formation of a coalition government though based on a post poll alliance, is indeed a reflection of the rather muddled mandate. And in that sense one could argue that, democracy won at the end.

And as Indians we have still not forgotten the many short stint governments and Prime Ministers we had in the mid 90’s all thanks to post poll plots! Have we?

 If democracy is just about free and fair elections and installing “a” government as an end result of that process, probably, we should not grumble much about how governments function once they come to power. However, I do believe that democracy is not just about the election process but also about the outcome of the process as a reflection of the collective will of people as demonstrated by the election results and the ensuing governance.

From that point of view, is a post poll alliance, where 2 or more parties who contested and fought against each other bitterly before the elections come together and form a coalition government, fair? Is that arrangement a fair representation of the mandate or the collective will of the people? Is it not fooling the voters if, the party against whom you raised a stink over issues like corruption during the election campaign is now part of your government, for example? And there are more legitimate questions like these.

In a pre-poll alliance, parties “come together” probably with a common ideological plank or against a common enemy or some common promise or premise. This is transparent to the people when they go to vote. In a post poll scenario, parties “cobble up together” an alliance.  And there is a big difference between the two!

Apart from the moral issue of a post poll alliance government going against the will of the people, the other obvious issue with it is the thriving of “resort politics” – a phrase today associated with deal cutting and other “Direct Benefit Transfers”! Today, we are a witness to all this happening before us but have to be silent because post poll alliances are deemed acceptable under the constitution! Even the Supreme Court expressed its inability to term post poll alliances as invalid!

One of the main argument in favour of post poll alliances is that, today the constitution doesn’t dis-allow such an arrangement. Has the time not come to look at reviewing this aspect of it and make amends?

One of the other vocal arguments that is used to legitimise post poll alliances is saving public exchequer on expenses over another round of elections. For parties who raise this, it is just a convenient argument to come to power somehow.  In the case of a hung verdict, it is clear that the people are not convinced of the credentials of a single party or a pre-poll alliance. Giving an opportunity to a post poll alliance is the biggest charade that can be inflicted on the public.

If one looks at all angles, post poll alliances don’t check any of the boxes in public’s favour in a democracy. And it’s time as a country we have a debate around it and look at other alternatives of handling a hung verdict than the post poll plots which parties draw up.

Toon courtesy: Satish Acharya

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Karnataka Political League!

Since 12th May, the day when Karnataka went to polls, India has been gripped by non-stop action from KPL – Karnataka Political league. The twists and turns of KPL put IPL completely on the back burner for a week. From the exit poll results to counting day to the see-sawing of fortunes of parties and leaders to the resort games to the confidence vote, we saw it all. In these “Winner takes it all” times, finally JDS emerged the winner at the end of the week! And the people of Karnataka (to whom elections and the rulers actually matter) lost!

For those of us, who have been keenly watching the Karnataka elections and some of the electoral battles since 2014, there are many interesting takeaways which I would like to share:

  • Final election results defy ground reports of journalists and in particular celebrity anchors and Star journos. Karnataka once again confirmed this! They tend to hear what they want to hear and see what they want to see. Ergo, report what they want to report!
  • Restaurants, eateries, dhabas are wrong places to sense any political hawa during elections. Channels, anchors and reporters should find better options to plug eateries in their shows. My unsolicited advice to anchors – “Please do not have politics and elections on your plates!”
  • For a political party being savvy or active on Social media (read as Twitter) and claiming to dominate Twitter trends aggressively is not a passport to electoral wins. Dominating “on the ground” trends is. I have come to realise that what happens on Twitter may just steer conversations on WhatsApp groups or lunchtime discussions in offices. These also help feed off talk points to reporters and journalists. At the hustings, being savvy on Social media particularly Twitter has no impact. As a tool, WhatsApp works better and efficiently in driving opinions.
  • Opinion polls and Exit polls continue to be employment generating machines for pollsters, TRP drivers for channels and entertainment source for viewers. Beyond that, we have now got habituated to see that for every exit poll there is an opposite result exit poll!
  • On TV, the so called experts have their own way of explaining any result. In the run up to the polls when Congress was poised to do well, Siddaramaiah was touted to have mastered the social coalition of AHINDA. On the counting day when Congress for floundering, Siddaramaiah’s AHINDA and the many social schemes were pronounced as “flops”. Same with his Lingayat gamble. In 24 hours, a masterstroke became Siddaramaiah’s undoing!
  • Therefore the important take away for observers like us is not to form our opinions based on experts on TV or social media narratives!
  • If one is weak on Indian geography, start watching pre-election programming where channel after channel will take you through the regional divides in a state with the caste composition in added measure!
  • And the more and more we want our next generation to move away from casteism, experts on TV will keep hammering and reminding us about Vokkaligas and Kappus and Yadavs and Kurmis and what not! If you are a student of journalism, this is the 1st thing to master to become a successful political journalist!
  • Corruption is not really a big issue for the electorate. Impact of governance on the individual voter is. Even if a party or a legislator is corrupt, as long as they manage to meet the expectations of voters in matters of day-to-day governance, they will go ahead and vote for them. This I am talking of voters for whom elections and the rulers matter. I have come to this conclusion not just based on the Karnataka elections but what has been happening for so many years not just in India but even in our neighbourhood like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh,…
  • I think Demonetisation aka Notebandi and GST,… as much as the media and opposition would like to rake them as electoral issues have clearly emerged as non-issues in elections. On the contrary, I feel that opposition parties continuing to raise hell on these issues are yielding them negative returns.
  • Prime Minister Modi clearly has a Pan India and towering appeal today. Talks of a waning Modi appeal are as per me pure imaginations. And it is my belief that even if BJP had lost Karnataka badly and ended up with fewer seats than Congress, come 2019, Karnataka will vote for Modi and BJP in that order.
  • Anti-incumbency is just an excuse to explain poor Governance. Incumbent governments will continue to be under severe scrutiny. However, if the government delivers on at least 50% of its promises and demonstrates its intent to deliver the rest, I think the floating non-core supporter will vote in the ruling party’s favour. (Core voters stick to their parties come what may). As per me, above all other factors, this is one in which BJP has demonstrated a clear edge over Congress. And hence it is able to retain states where it rules and Congress is unable to.
  • Post poll alliance is the biggest charade to afflict Indian democracy. I am not saying this with just Karnataka in mind but seeing what has happened in the past and recently in Goa, Manipur, J&K,… That you fight tooth and nail against each other before elections and then stitch up a post alliance to appropriate power is nothing but a sham! Before elections, 2 parties “come together” for an alliance. After elections, 2 parties “cobble up” an alliance! There is a world of difference in both! In India, now any 2 parties which may seem to be in loggerheads can come together if a situation arises for sharing power! Morality be damned and Ideology be condemned!
  • In India, “Whataboutery” just scaled new heights! “Whataboutery” which has largely been in the domain of party spokespersons trying to defend their positions day in and day out has now become common man’s defence against any argument. No argument/discussion is complete today without reference to “Whatabout that” or “Whatabout then”!
  • For every precedent, there is an opposite precedent!

Karnataka Political League might have just ended. But the games parties play will continue. Bernard Shaw said politics is the last resort of scoundrels. These days, “Resorts” have become the 1st resort for politics!!!

Toon credit: Satish Acharya

Karnataka today, India tomorrow !!!

democracy-circus3In this election season, you cannot be blamed for mistaking the title of this post for a war cry of one of the National political parties say the Congress or the BJP. I.e. to capture Karnataka today and India soon after. After all, as Karnataka votes today for its destiny driver for the next 5 years (hopefully), the ball has been set rolling for a string of state elections to follow and then the final Loksabha election mid next year i.e. if the present dispensation lasts its full term. War cry of a party is last of my bother. But, loud cry I keep hearing of the Mango people is.

I cannot but avoid sympathizing with my Karnataka friends as they brave the hot may be not so hot sun and exercise their democratic right today. What is the choice they have?

• Do they again vote and bring back BJP – which made a royal mess of its maiden Southern venture?? 3 Chief Ministers in 5 years, rampant factionalism and infighting, the honour of making “Garden city” a pitiable “Garbage City” today, Corruption charges galore, No governance… have made BJP a party with No difference.

• Do the people of Karnataka repose their faith on Congress – which must take responsibility for the lack of basic infrastructure like roads,… even after ruling the state for more than 50 years since independence? Is there a leader in Congress in the state who can make it happen in the “IT” State?

• Or they throw their weight behind Janata Dal (Secular) helmed by Kumaraswamy Gowda an Ex- Chief Minister himself. If Bangalore is sick and languishing at the bottom of the economic growth table, this secular party has to take fair share of the blame.

• Or finally will the Karnataka praja make my worst nightmare true? Is he actually readying to make Yeddyurappa of Karnataka Janata Party the King or a Kingmaker?

For the citizens, today is a stressful day. The choice they have is to choose the Best among the Worst. As a nation did we opt for democracy to choose the good among the rotten? No wonder there is so much apathy among people today to go and vote. Frankly, if I feel that the candidates in the fray are not worthy of my vote, do I have a choice to express the same?

Though sitting in Mumbai I’m not in a quandary today, I’m worried. Worried because what my Karnataka mates are going through today, many of us have to endure when the time comes to vote for the party/front at the Centre. It looks like “A scam a day may soon keep Dr.Manmohan Singh away”. With an early election looking imminent, the dilemma for the voter gets bigger.

I presume that most fellow Indians have had enough of this Congress led UPA and are craving for a change. For them to satisfy their craving, they need options to vote for in the next General elections. In states where BJP is strong (and that is only 6-7 states I guess) may be they have the option of voting for BJP. But in most of the other states one has to dive into deep-sea to escape from the Congress Devil. In many states where BJP is absent or present in absentia, the people have no choice but to exercise their “Best among the Worst” rule while voting. When they do that, they give fillip by default to parties like the Trinamool Congress, CPI/CPM, YSR Congress, Janata Dal (Secular), Shiv Sena, Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party,…,…which again start extracting their pound of flesh when the Government formation time comes. Irrespective of the national sentiment for change we may yet get a Government we never wanted. Because under the present system who will rule is decided not by “National mood” but by “Rational Greed” (Money bags, ATM Ministries, Rajya Sabha nominations,…) of the fringe parties who claim to promote the cause of Regional and Sectarian aspirations but in reality have been furthering their own “cases”.

I call this the “Democracy by stealth”. So does this “Democracy by stealth” provide the famous “Government of the people, by the people, for the people”??? I doubt.

Problem definition is always easy. Finding solution is not. Yet, let me attempt. The way forward is certainly to “CHANGE” the present system. That could be in the form of electoral reforms which include

• Clearly defining and identifying National parties which have an influence in more than few states

• Mandating only “National” parties to take part in Lok Sabha elections

• Government formations only based on declared “Pre Poll Alliances” and not by convenient “Post Poll Alignments”

• Election Commission to define a template and minimum criteria for an “Election Manifesto” essentially making the document a “Minimum Agenda for Governance” for the party coming to power.

• Election Manifestos of parties once released during election campaigns must be registered with the Election Commission

• Parties not fulfilling 70% of their manifesto promises should be disqualified from contesting in the next elections. So that there is accountability along with accounts.

Some of the above ideas are indeed outrageous and outside the realm of today’s political imagination. However I strongly feel that small changes may not work. We need paradigm shifts. So that we actually see Democracy at work and not some “Democrazy”!!!