Ralph Waldo Emerson once famously derided consistency, saying it was the hobgoblin of little minds.
He might as well have written the playbook for this election cycle.
No one assumed this general election would be a straightforward affair. But the amount of back-and-forth politicking, party in-fighting and sheer effort in cobbling “numbers” is astounding. Flip-flop, in this case, is more appropriate for describing a chappal: Coherent political formations or party stances have all but eroded. Sample the following.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
After denying a countless number of times that the Left would support the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), Prakash Karat hinted at softening his stand in the last 24 hours. The Telangana Rashtra Samiti, a part of the Third Front, is now veering towards the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). And finally, Rahul Gandhi has contradicted himself innumerable times.
As 16 May nears, matters, instead of settling, are getting more fluid by the day. Today, to give one outlandish example, can anyone rule out a tie-up between the NDA and the Bahujan Samaj Party?
To be sure, volatility has been a central undercurrent of this election. The UPA and the NDA have seen their regional bases erode along caste and linguistic lines. A Third Front aside, a fractured polity does not bode well for India.
But the more peculiar phenomenon is the inward implosion of major parties to their own inconsistencies and infighting.
Ultimately this is worrying for Indian democracy because tussles in high politics shift agency away from the voter. A decade ago, Indian voters knew that specific voting outcomes created specific government formations. Now that’s all in a tizzy: Even given a final election tally, can anyone confidently predict the government formation?
The greatest threat is that government formation is, increasingly, captive to behind-the-scenes handshaking and the whims of political egos butting heads. This ultimately disempowers the voter. While coalition affiliation is often a secondary concern, voters surely use such information to cast their ballots. Now the Indian voter has no idea what parties will result in what formations; this is surely a type of information asymmetry.
Finally, context is everything: The new government will inherit bloated deficits, an imploding Pakistan and a rather unstable Nepal. Sri Lanka is still volatile and financial markets are unpredictable. The last thing India needs now is deadlocked government with its hands tied behind its back, incapable of doing anything substantive. Unfortunately, that looks frighteningly real.
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