In Bihar, focus has finally shifted to jobs, development4 min read . Updated: 03 Nov 2020, 08:14 AM IST
Instead of only making false promises, parties now have to address relevant issues
I usually avoid comparing the developments in India with the situation in any other country, but there are some trends that cannot be ignored. And, a recent survey caught my attention. It reveals that over the last decade, the popularity of politicians making populist promises has been declining in many countries across Europe, America and Asia. The survey was conducted across 25 countries under the YouGov Cambridge Globalism Project. Its findings published by the British newspaper The Guardian says while support for politicians who came to power with highly-coloured claims was at its peak in the previous decade in the eight European nations, it has been waning since, with a growing lack of trust between the public and such leaders. In the previous decade, popularity of political parties and politicians making populist promises, including US President Donald Trump, had increased from 7% to 25%.
However, since then, some of the biggest names whose popularity have declined, include Trump, besides Marine Le Pen, the president of the National Rally political party of France, Matteo Salvini, the leader of the Opposition in Italy, Hungarian prime minister Victor Orbon and Per Jimmie Åkesson, the leader of the Sweden Democrats. Most of these leaders are associated with right-wing ideology. In some countries, the fall was substantial—from 33% to 22% in Denmark, a fall of 11 percentage points, 9 percentage points each in Great Britain and Germany, 8 percentage points in France, 6 in Italy and 4 in Poland.
Exaggerated promises have had a profound impact on the image of the leaders in Denmark, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Poland and Sweden. Some countries also witnessed massive anger over the fact that the government was not making public data available. The coronavirus pandemic has only added to the people’s angst. Voters in many developed countries believe that the leaders have been provoking emotions rather than relying on science, while scientific tools were needed to deal with such disasters.
Now just consider the reality of our country. Our political discourse has always been flooded with false promises by leaders, election after election. Sometimes they raised a pseudo enemy, sometimes they started pointing at the shortcomings of other parties. With all parties continuing to add to this confusion, the options are becoming limited even for voters. This is the reason that issues such as caste, religion and sect often dominate over important issues like development, employment, health or education.
Take the Bihar assembly elections, for example. Tejashwi Yadav was not as brilliant as he is today compared to the time when the elections were announced. In the run-up to the state elections, he promised that soon after forming the government, the first order will be to give jobs to one million youth. This single announcement shook the electoral discourse of this province, which is very sensitive politically. In the manifesto of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) released the following day, the party promised employment for 1.9 million people. Subsequently, every party was compelled to make similar promises to the youth, who are often forced to migrate to other states due to lack of jobs in Bihar.
But, will these promises come true? Yadav seems to have done his homework beforehand. He and his supporters were also seen giving detailed explanations for this. However, the track record of politicians on the job front has been extremely poor over the years.
In the first phase of the elections on 28 October, when reporters tried to find the pulse of the voters, three topics dominated the discourse—jobs, foodgrain and development. Most were fed up with unemployment and their plight. Unfortunately, the situation is not of Bihar alone. Rajasthan and Haryana are ahead in the figures released last month.
Now, results on 10 November will show how much and how far this issue could have an impact on the elections in Bihar. Predicting who will win is not the job of journalists, but one thing is certain that the issue of migration and unemployment will continue to be chased by politicians in the coming days. It may be a major issue in the forthcoming assembly elections in Assam, Kerala, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu. If that happens, it would be a very auspicious sign for our democracy. The silence of voters has made politicians autocratic. The outspokenness of the masses will compel them to come out of their comfort zones. They will be obliged to work in public interest and give an account of their promises.
Bihar is known as a land where the first green shoots of democracy emerged, centuries ago. Now, in the elections of October-November 2020, Bihar has the chance to deliver a new message—now, instead of the futile promises by leaders, relevant issues and meaningful work will be the deciding factor for election outcomes. If the trend catches on, the world’s largest democracy will also become the best democracy in the world.
Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. His Twitter handle is @shekarkahin