With three phases of the elections now over there is a general listlessness about the entire process. Some call it the absence of a wave. Others say it doesn’t feel like an election. On the streets there is an absence of excitement, which is what we expect of elections. After all, they are supposed to be are our quinquennial or half-decadal tryst with democracy.
But what makes any tryst engaging, or something to look forward to, is promise. To make a vote exciting is to have some promise offered to the voter. These elections are singularly without promise.
And by promise I do not mean manifesto items, which may or may not see the light of day. By promise is meant the offering of hope. And hope does not necessarily rest on something definite like a loan waiver or direct cash transfers. Hope is by nature nebulous and that is what makes it an exciting prospect. Hope is undefinable, a distant glow that is a harbinger of something good to come. It always speaks to a dawn and a day that will follow.
Now cast your eyes on the Indian political landscape and try catching a sliver of hope.
Look at what the contenders are offering. Those defending their seat in South Block are offering more of the same. The theme of BJP’s campaign is five more years of Mr Modi. The task is not finished, and he is the best, or rather, the only, man who can deliver on what was offered five years ago. On the plate is a continuation of that promise – phir ek baar Modi Sarkar – which should have gotten people excited. But there is the immediate memory of the last five years to provide a reality check. Those who want to replace him are offering merely to unseat the incumbent. Mr Gandhi wants to get rid of Mr Modi, and that is entirely legitimate for him to attempt. But there is no promise there. If you are viscerally opposed to Mr Modi, then just the act of unseating Mr Modi may seem like a promise. But for most of the populace, who witness a happy merry-go-round of candidates and do not seek ideological purity, getting rid of an incumbent is no promise worth getting excited about. The promise of justice – ab hoga nyay – with its emphasis on ab is well chosen and fits well a campaign that is built on negating what is available. But there is no hope in this negation because for the ordinary voter, the last five years, contrary to what many would say, has not seen unmitigated darkness and denial of all rights. Only under conditions of abject all-round misery does pulling down someone in office offer hope. Between phir ek baar and ab hoga – once again and now there will be – lies the vast ennui.
If you look at regional parties, it is a continuation of what we see with these two parties. Aligned with the BJP, then it is Mr Modi you need to trust. Against him, get rid of the man. In many ways, the campaign has become a referendum on Mr Modi. And whatever the party faithful may say such a referendum is nothing to get the average Jai excited.