24 Mar 2024  |   08:46am IST


Election fever has once again gripped the country. Goa is 40-odd days away from Lok Sabha polls. Political parties as usual will come up with their manifestos, promising everything under the sky to woo the voters. But the core issues of the voters like water crisis, unemployment, good roads, public transport, protection of land and others are either completely ignored or find a passing mention in the manifestos. And once elections are done and dusted, whatever promises were made, are conveniently forgotten. In the weekly Herald TV debate Point-Counterpoint, SUJAY GUPTA discusses how the main issues faced by the people are being constantly ignored by the elected representatives, which is causing a wide gulf between voters and the politicians

We are at a time when Lok Sabha elections are about 40 odd days away in Goa and about 10 to 15 days less if you look at the first phase of polling in India, while of course political issues will be discussed and deliberated and strengths of parties and otherwise and the selection and the non-selection of candidates will do the rounds.

We here at Herald TV decided to change the track a little bit and look into issues which have a little more depth than the discourse which is on display at this current point of time.

We seem to be in a situation and this is not a current situation, but a recurring one. Whenever there are elections of any sort, be it the Assembly elections or the Lok Sabha elections, we see that there are two worlds which are in front of us - one is that of political strategy and hardcore give and take. The other aspect of elections that should ideally be on the front bench and not at the back burner is people-centric grassroot issues that need absolute attention and focus.

At the end of the day, when the hurly burly of elections is done and dusted, you have a situation where the people have to go back to their lives and face real hardcore issues like jobs, civic issues, environmental destruction, water crisis, farming and compensation for land that is acquired and the list goes on.

At the end of the day, we find that elections come and go. But these issues either find a passing reference in manifestos, which have become more like cut and paste jobs or they are not in the discourse at all at any point of time.

Now in this scenario of shifting discourses, what we find here is that the basic objective of elections, which is to empower the voter and to ensure that he or she has a choice in the selection of people, who will truly represent them and their issues is something that has become the greatest casualty of the unity of our democracy. Which is why this discussion is going to be extremely important.

Prof Sebastian Morris, Senior Professor at Goa Institute of Management, said, “This is a perennial issue and I think the problem with Indian democracy is that our elected representatives don’t seem to represent us. Now, this is very interesting in most parts of the country, national issues matter at the local level. So, people are voting for whether you are pro-national development or not, irrespective of the local issues.”

“Now why does this happen is the big question. Actually, Indian democracy is what I would say is first-past-the-post. That means, we have what is called local representation. So in local representation, it’s obvious that our representative will represent us. However, the result in India is exactly the opposite. And that puzzle needs to be explained and I don’t think political scientists have paid adequate attention to this,” Prof Morris said.

“My own take on that is, there are perhaps two seminal reasons, very core reasons why this violation has happened, despite the design. So the design for local is not proportional. In proportion, the power of the party is large. There is hardly ever inner party democracy and a few who control the party, will control everything in local representation,” he said.

“In local representation, you do have potential for political capital, but it’s not happening. The reason for this is two-fold. One is that, most importantly, since the anti-defection law, what has happened is if I am a member in a party and I’m representing my constituency, I’m just a hand because if I take a position independent of my boss or of the party, I get thrown out of the party and my seat. So the anti-defection law which makes this possible, makes all representatives captive to the party,” the senior professor said.

“Inner party democracy by definition cannot happen in India. What’s the other corollary? If I have a lot of people and have 30% kind of near power I’ll split. I will not go along. So there will be a lot of smaller parties. So, this is the reason why the local political guy does not have a vehicle by which he can make local political capital and then build on it,” the GIM lecturer said.

“He can do that perhaps, but then if he doesn’t get the ticket, he’s out,” he added.

There are a few issues that we don’t find resonating at all, which completely elaborates what Prof Morris has said. If we look at the issues like double tracking, now some people will say it is a local issue, limited to Velsao and surrounding areas.

But at the end of the day, it is also an issue concerning the local Member of Parliament, because at the end of the day, it is the South Western Railway which is doing this project. Land has been acquired or not, people’s houses are being kind of encroached upon, without survey numbers. That could be one issue.

Even the Marina project which is happening in the entire Sancoale Bay area where again there are efforts to revive it and bring it back or even if you go to a very strong grassroot issue like water crisis, why should Goa be a State which will have a water crisis of this proportion. Now, these are issues that even local candidates are not raising, forget the MP level candidates.

Reflecting on these observations, Olencio Simoes, General Secretary, Goenchea Ramponkarancho Ekvott, said, “Well, this is a very good question and difficult to answer for many because, today in electoral politics, the objective is only to win, not to actually think about the future of the constituency, because we are only in the race of winning. So, it is unfortunate you see that most of the time political parties will be focusing on arithmetic, like the caste factor, how much funds the candidate has etc.”

“But in terms of issues, unfortunately in the last 10 years, issues pertaining to the grassroot are systematically sidelined. I will say this because I think it’s a tactical diversion, which has been created probably thinking that to focus on development, one has to follow the development model of the West,” Simoes said.

“But I don’t think this works out here because what happens is we in India as a whole or in Goa, the government is the biggest violator of its own law. For example, if you see a double tracking issue, without acquisition, without paying compensation and without following the rule book, they have started the work full swing. So whether it is a UNESCO heritage site or whether you have to follow TCP rules or Revenue rules, nothing is being followed,” the General Secretary of Goenchea Ramponkarancho Ekvott, said.

“No department is acting. So somewhere, I think if we want to progress, then the rule of the law has to be followed. See, we have seen countries like the United States, United Arab Emirates - which had nothing. From zero, they reached great heights. And in Goa I feel sad,” he said.

“I was in Abu Dhabi a few weeks back, representing India in the WTO summit. There they don’t have anything. They don’t have water, they don’t have rain. They have made maximum use of their ports and generated revenue through exports for the State. But here, even though we have everything, we have nothing but levelling allegations and counter-allegations against the people, who actually vote,” he said.

This is right. But what is also correct is that the Goan electorate has begun to treat elections as a transaction and not a tool for empowerment. If we look at this, don’t you think in constituencies after constituencies, there are allegations that votes are bought and sold? If one starts trading his/her votes, what right do s/he have in demanding proper development from the government.

“Absolutely. I agree to this completely because I think our mindset also somewhere needs to change. See, initially we had very tall leaders like Purushottam Kakodkar and Dr Jack Sequeira, who never fought elections on the basis of money. But unfortunately, this poison has entered into our system and systematically most of the politicians have used this as a tool to get it through in a faster way,” he said.

“Right now if I as a politician want to win without money, it’s very difficult for me to do it. Unfortunately, that’s the hard fact. But whoever is having huge resources, can push through by bulldozing everything. So, the objective is only to win and then for the next five years recover the amount spent,” Simoes said.

When asked whether there’s a huge dichotomy between people’s issues and the way elections are contested, Dr Manoj Kamat, Principal, Dempo College of Commerce and Economics, answered in affirmative.

“Yes, there is a huge dichotomy between people’s problems and the issues raised in election campaigns. We have seen of late for over a number of years that neither the people about the election issues nor the politicians. This is because are really worried about election issues because elections today are not being fought on manifestos but

on party lines,” Dr Kamat said.

“They are more personalised and in smaller constituencies like that of Goa, where we have 30,000 to 35,000 voters in an area and not more than 4 lakh voters for a Lok Sabha seat, it becomes more transactional,” he said.

“Rather than what am I given, the focus is on what do I get, the seats need to be purchased, tickets need to be purchased and those people who have money power, who are not into social field, who have never been into politics, whose face is not known, suddenly appears only because he has piles of money with him and it is with that agenda that either you have some goal or it is a party line that you need to toe. You will find that in the last couple of years, we have seen parties with good manifestos have done worse,” he said.

“Those parties who have more foot soldiers, tend to take up people’s issues, have not been able to get their people elected. On the contrary, those resource rich parties who otherwise make a lot of noise when they are in Opposition when they are in power have become resource rich and they know that they can buy mandate,” the Principal of Dempo College of Commerce and Economics.

“Today, the election is not about fighting for votes. It is all about electioneering after the votes are polled. So, if such is the situation that you're fighting to win after the elections, then where does the question arise about taking up people’s issues? Now political parties deal with people’s issues before the elections just to pacify some segments of people who are annoyed with the system. After they are done with this cosmetic pacification, the issues are forgotten,” he said.

“Let us take examples of Goa. Mhadei was an important issue, but not a single MP out of the three MPs raised it in Parliament. The Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) issue was another vital subject. Fortunately, there is a person from the Opposition who understands these issues very well, who has an electorate which is facing this problem. But Francisco Sardinha (South Goa MP) did not find it fit to raise this issue in the Lok Sabha,” he said.

“On the contrary, we have the ruling party which talks about giving tickets to women, but if you see the crime rates against children and women in the State of Goa, it’s on the rise. So who is talking about real issues? Mining has been closed for one decade. The political leadership has done precious little in following up the issue. We are not talking about resumption of mining. It is not even on the cards. Sand mining is another issue which is causing problems for our construction industry,” he said.

“We are now importing sand from Karnataka. Sand extraction is going on unabated, massive loot of resources is going on. We understand the idea of saving the environment, but then we have not even understood what the real issue there is. Sand mining is still going on rampantly and illegally,” Dr Kamat said.

“The sand rates have shot up. Now we have contractors entering into the field rather than extractors. So, we have allowed all these issues to linger. Casinos have been a problem in Goa, Panjim in particular. But it is never an issue on the table. So these are instances which can clearly say that we are absolutely cut off from the real issues,” he said.

He added that the Lok Sabha elections are round the corner and the parties haven’t yet declared their candidates.

“For almost a month we have been speculating about who the candidates from BJP and Congress will be. But people are not even talking about what are the issues that should be part of the election manifestos. Have you heard about any political party forming a committee to prepare the manifesto? If the answer is no, then you have got an answer to my question,” the senior academician added.

Just to touch upon the point on violence against women, there is some shocking data. Currently there are 156 cases under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, pending in the court since the last five years. There have been only four convictions.

Goa has a provision to have two fast-track courts and POCSO courts, but it has only one.  So what is being essentially said is that this is absolutely crazy. We don’t have enough staff, now the issue here is that different government schemes that are here for the protection of women, like setting up of courts, have come and gone back without the money getting utilised.

There is you an absolutely shocking data that shows in 2022, 73 women were rape victims, of which 57 were minor girls. So these are issues that we have flagged as a 

publication and a media house. But you won’t find any of these issues coming up during elections.

When asked whether these issues are only Goa-centric or this phenomenon is happening all over India, where this whole dichotomy between real issues and electioneering which has become more like transaction, is prevalent throughout the country, Dr (Prof) Snehanshu Saha, Senior Professor at BITS Pilani, Goa Campus, said, “I would in general agree with the observation of my fellow panellists and India has been following the West’s model in terms of election engineering and it’s been there for at least two decades now. It was not that money was not flowing before. But post-liberalisation, there has been an influx of resources at the disposal of a select few, who happen to be at the fulcrum of political power.”

“Speaking about the manifestos, at least back in the 1980s or even early ’90s, when you read political parties’ manifesto, it used to be precise. Right now you take a look at any political party’s manifesto, it runs into hundreds of pages. So obviously I think this is done by design because I don’t think the political parties want you to read their manifesto,” Prof Saha said.

“The second thing is, I don’t think an inner party committee was actually involved in drafting the manifestos. It must have been dedicated to a third party. So these third parties have become very central in the pursuit of power, like this election and consultant companies are making a lot of money,” he said.

“Where is this money coming from? I mean who is actually paying them? We are paying them. Also, I would also blame us, as in me the privileged liberal section of the society, who actually has the luxury of thinking about these issues and doing something about it. At least be vocal in the public space and write about it. But how many of us even care?” Prof Saha asked.

“So there are two parts of voting. One is that vote that comes from the urban population right and the vote which comes from the rural population. Nobody knows what the migrant worker even does, because I don’t think the migrant workers have even the luxury of skipping a day’s work and going to cast his or her vote. So the rural population doesn’t have the luxury of thinking long-term. So if you give them some goodies just to serve your purpose, they’ll be happy with it. So why do you need an issue? You don't, right?” the Senior Professor at BITS Pilani, Goa Campus, said.

“So the key issues should be about healthcare, education, infrastructure, jobs, safety of women. And you see in the last 20 years, the public spending on each one of these sectors have shrunk and it’s going to shrink further. There’s concrete data on this. In just fellowships and scholarships, there’s been a 28% dip in the last three years,” he said.

Citing the example of Indian Statistical Institute (ISI), Kolkata, where one gets scholarship comfortably, this year it is starting a programme where they are charging a tuition fee of Rs 2 lakh.

“It has never been done before. They are compelled to do this because their budget has been cut by 30%. So, where is the revenue going to come from? They have been told that if you don't increase your tuition fees, you will not have the budget to recruit,” Prof Saha said.

“I’m not blaming ISI. They don’t have the infrastructure to build hostels. States we will not provide you with a hostel. So the implication of such a programme is that your population will come from urban upper class. How do you expect a poor middle class guy from a rural area to come and study in ISI Kolkata, because that’s a city,” he said.

“So, I think, by design what is being done is to create such divisions so that you have the upper class, which is less than 10% of the population and the rest of it struggle for bread every day. They remain satisfied with short-term incentives and you don’t really have to think or act upon the issues of either local or national interest,” the academician said.

The writing is clearly on the wall that politicians don’t care about us. We the people have to assert ourselves.


Iddhar Udhar