Move over rhetoric, development dominates campaign 2009May 3rd, 2009 - 1:42 pm ICT by IANS
By Darshan Desai
New Delhi, May 3 (IANS) Communal rabblerousing, caste equations and personal attacks may have made news, but what has been less noticed is how development issues have taken centerstage during campaigning in the 15th Lok Sabha polls in India.
Chief ministers like Nitish Kumar of Bihar, Shivraj Singh Chouhan of Madhya Pradesh, Raman Singh of Chhattisgarh and Sheila Dikshit of Delhi - all known for development works and welfare schemes in their states - have become top campaigners for their parties.
“It is not that caste or religion is not a consideration before voting, but people are demanding development; there has been a certain maturing of the voters in that sense,” Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) strategist Arun Jaitley told IANS.
Similar voices can be heard from the ground. Vishwanath Jha, a security guard from Bihar who works in a plush Delhi neighbourhood, said: “In our region, the Nitish Kumar government has done unprecedented work.”
Jha, who belongs to Sitamarhi in north Bihar, told IANS: “We have never seen roads like this and electricity for so many hours.”
Sudha Pai, a political analyst at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) here, said caste identities no longer work in Bihar.
“The mobilisation of castes into a homogenous structure is no longer there. The backward classes themselves are divided on economic and social lines in Bihar; they want development more than anything,” Pai said.
“Even in Uttar Pradesh, though the Dalit identity politics exists, a day of reckoning will come for (Chief Minister) Mayawati. During this election, people in rural areas did speak of her obsession for stone memorials.”
Parties too are realising the importance of focussing on development issues.
Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi occupies a special place on the website of BJP’s prime ministerial candidate L.K. Advani as the man driving the party’s development agenda.
Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Chouhan’s financial incentive scheme for the girl child figures prominently in the BJP’s manifesto. Similarly, the BJP promises to replicate nationally the subsidised foodgrain scheme of Chhattisgarh’s Raman Singh. The Congress too has lifted it.
Conversely, opposition parties in states like West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh that have lagged behind in development are hoping to reap rich dividends.
Sudha Pai points out that development started becoming an election plank in 2000 but was never as pronounced as now.
The strongest indication of this was available after the November-December assembly elections when security issues were expected to take precedence over others in the wake of the Mumbai terror strikes.
The results, where the BJP lost an important state like Rajasthan and the Congress retained Delhi for the third time in a row, showed that local development issues dominated the polls.
“People are generally fed up and feel the ill effects of inadequate development. Even in JNU, every few hours there are power cuts and water is not available three days a week. What do you expect in the rest of the city?” asks Pai.
PRS Legislative Research, a parliamentary research organisation, said as much as 25 percent of debates in the outgoing 14th Lok Sabha was on local issues.
Looking into the chief concerns of most regions, the PRS study found that nearly 40 percent of the issues political parties raised in parliament were about roads and rail infrastructure, education, water and sanitation - 25 percent on road and rail network and over 14 percent on other infrastructure.
Agreeing that development issues were gaining importance, political analyst Mahesh Rangarajan explained that along with local issues, regional parties have acquired centerstage.
He said this is because national players “have lost touch with the ground”.
(Darshan Desai can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
-Indo-Asian News Service
Tags: castes, chhattisgarh, chief minister, chief ministers, development agenda, jawaharlal nehru, jawaharlal nehru university, jha, jnu, l k advani, lok sabha polls, Mayawati, narendra modi, north bihar, prime ministerial candidate, raman singh, sheila dikshit, stone memorials, vishwanath, welfare schemes