Last week, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called independent candidates “spoilers” who steal Congress votes in urban areas. Such candidates, alongside regionalism, are fraying the seams of national party-led coalitions.
Singh’s comments are telling of his—and the major parties’—stance towards middle-class voters: They are taken for granted. Why does Singh simply assume that the urban Indian will vote for the Congress or other national parties?
Politics in India is intrinsically local. Parties that cannot enthuse the electorate at the grass-roots level simply cannot win seats. Vibrant regional parties know that. The so-called Third Front may be more of a political bait and switch than a coherent political formation. But the threat of a new front is enough to temper the ambitions of either the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) or the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) as they try to come back to power.
That’s where independent candidates fit in. Buzz has surrounded Meera Sanyal, a banker from south Mumbai, and Ashish Saxena, a 30-year-old from Chandni Chowk in Delhi. Both candidates are political outsiders. Both have tapped into middle-class disenfranchisement with their elected officials.
These independent candidates are not game-changers. But their viability, if not “nuisance potential”, forces the NDA and the UPA to take middle-class India seriously. The BJP and the Congress have struggled to maintain a coherent national-level ideology while winning particular seats that require juggling along caste, regional and religious axes. To traverse caste and regional barriers, they have broached rural populism—but in the process, alienated urban India.
Many independent candidates are realistic contenders. There can’t be a government of independents, but when every MP counts in government formation, they have added importance. Singh’s concern is enough to demonstrate that. The viability of these candidates could force the major parties to reconsider urban India next election cycle.
A fractured polity does not bode well for India. The danger that independents may contribute to this unravelling is real. The next government has momentous tasks on its hands. But long-ignored by their politicians, middle-class India may find political accountability—in independent candidates.
Independent candidates: nuisance or a reflection of local realities? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org