Sometime back, when the leaders of the Left Parties had met the Prime Minister to present him with a memorandum outlining the proposals for containing the rise of prices of essential commodities – there was a strange response. The very same evening, a terse statement was issued from his office to the effect that any protest over the rise in prices would, actually, `further fuel inflation'. The logic was simple – protest was synonymous with `scare mongering'. And, this was going to, surely, abet the speculators and further contribute towards upward spiraling.
Secondly, the statement also made out that protest over prices was `politicizing' a development which was the result of global processes. It was implicit in this argumentation that the global processes cannot be questioned and ought to be accepted as such. The corollary was that our government could do little to insulate the people from this global process which was invested with a degree of `omnipotence'.
We are now witness to the continuing refrain on similar lines. The BJP National Executive meeting attacked the government for failing to keep prices in check. The spokesperson of the BJP and a former minister Ravi Shankar Prasad tried to rebut the Finance Minister on the record of the NDA government. But both Mr. Chidambaram's contention on the BJP performance and Mr. Prasad's rebuttal were essentially on cold statistics, repeating ad nauseam figures on inflation and annual growth rates. The discourse unfortunately is not capturing the sense of urgency which ought to be displayed to provide succor to the people. Far less this discourse is trying to examine policy making both by the present government and the previous government of the NDA which has, no doubt, contributed to the present situation.
But, the scrupulous avoidance of the policy underpinnings which has led to the present situation which by now even the Finance Minister has been forced to concede as `bad'. This is, however, not accidental. Actually, there is a complicity in this conscious proliferation of a `culture of silence' over people's vital question of livelihood.
Apparently unrelated, another question has also come up with a sharp focus. This relates to the manner in which elections have come to be conducted. The obvious immediate reference is the manner of holding of the Karnataka assembly elections by the Election Commission of India.
Increasingly, the election process is appearing to be an exercise to primarily contain `wrong doing' by the political parties. There is a manifold increase in emphasizing the need to bring down the money spent by the candidates and the political parties. The EC's oft-repeated prescription is now leading to curbing the activities of political parties themselves to pose before the people the issues concerning their life and livelihood.
The restrictions are, therefore, singularly directed on the number and volume of posters,
pamphlets, public meetings, etc. which inform the people – of course, from the standpoint of each political party. Conversely, this attack on the right of the political party thus affects the people's right to information. Election time – no doubt, provides an opportunity for the people to be informed about the analysis that each political party is supposed to put forth for addressing popular concerns. And, it is on these commitments that whosoever assumes office having to be judged. That is, the bedrock of the principle of accountability which is the heart of a parliamentary democracy. The political party or in the era of coalitions-the set of parties-have to redeem themselves in course of governance in the light of those very pre-election commitments. Therefore, ignoring this crucial aspect can only imperil democracy.
That this is not directed as such against the use of money power in the election process has become increasingly clear in the Karnataka elections. There have been widespread reports even in mainstream media of the increasing use of money power triggered by the activities of the `lobbies'. As compared to the `liquor lobby' in the past elections, this election has thrown up the `mining lobby' as the flavour of the month. The election process has highlighted that notwithstanding such antics by the EC, money has flowed like water.
This ominous development, therefore, raises the question that what is the effect of all these exercises in so far as insulating the election process from manipulation through money power is concerned?
All these developments from the statement issued by the Prime Minister's office – the discourse between the BJP spokesman and the Finance Minister – the conduct of elections by the EC – howsoever unconnected they might appear are actually inter-related. It underscores a degree of consensus aimed at insulating our discourse on people's concerns for survival and livelihood from uncomfortable policy questions. The basic policy paradigm of neo-Liberal globalization has to be accepted as such; regardless of whether they are effective in addressing people's concerns or not.
In a country as huge, as diverse and as complex as India, consigning the bread and butter issues of peoples livelihood to the backburner can only signal an unmitigated disaster. In election after election, the incumbents are being voted out of office. To ensure that such changes are better informed. And daily discourse, particularly those elections be premised on the policies that parties espouse, so that there can be intermittent reality checks. That is the only way to ensure transparency and accountability. This is surely a time for introspection.