Verdict 2012: Damn Development!



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As poll weary analysts debate the future of national parties in wake of the ever rising power of regional parties, one key message the 2012 mandate delivered has got completely lost in the cacophony of the voices emanating out of milling television studios. This message has significant ramifications for the policy framework and the overall trajectory of the national political discourse in the country.

No, it is not about whether Rahul would stop rolling his sleeves up as he faces the media next. This is also not about whether Mayawati pays a visit to Noida Park to draw fresh inspiration from her statues for what looks like a long arduous lonely battle ahead. Yes, not even about whether Nitin Gadkari seeks out L K Advani on figuring out what went wrong with ‘Ram arithmetic’ in Ayodhya?

This is about the moot question whether or not development is yet an election issue? The 2012 mandate has indeed put the development debate in perspective. But it has fallen well short of a clear verdict on the viability of development plank as the key to success at the ballot box.

Mayawati got trounced even as she returned an average 7 per cent plus GDP growth during her regime bettering Mulayam’s 5.9 per cent. Is this a vote against economic policy pursued by BSP boss or a reflection of her failure to articulate the growth story she authored during her regime? Or, else, development never was an election issue in the first place in Uttar Pradesh.

Remember Rahul kicked off his campaign raising a question mark over the growth story in the state only to abandon it mid course to embrace the minority brand of politics, in between, of course parading Sam Pitroda, that too in a brand new avatar. And BJP too never looked tired of attacking Mayawati on the corruption stigma until it discovered abundant virtue in a corruption accused Maya discard, who it took to bed in the hope that he would help deliver a clincher. All this while the bi-cycle had its own tale to tell and that had nothing to do with the development story or the lack of it on the ground.

But what about Punjab where Akali-BJP alliance is all set to take charge yet again thanks to a clear verdict that many attribute to the inclusive economic policies of the Badal clan. The SAD- combine yielded growth averaging 7.5 per cent per year beating 5.9 per cent of the previous Congress government. Did development plank yield tangible results in Punjab, and if so, did it come up as a factor good enough to beat anti-incumbency as also sticky corruption charges against the ruling establishment?

This presents an interesting pointer to the development debate: a relatively prosperous state finds merit in the ‘atta-dal’ scheme of Akalis, but poor electorate in UP shy away from development work, especially in critical social sector including education while making the choice at the polls. But why blame the voter when the authors of the growth story themselves chose to use or in this case over--use the social engineering formulae.

Goa, which apart from putting India on the global tourist map, also scores pretty well on the development indices including the socio economic parameters, has elected BJP over Congress. Again here the development debate became irrelevant in the campaign itself because the entire election was fought in the shadow of corruption charges against the incumbent Congress government. Thus the fact that Digambar Kamat achieved higher GDP growth every year than the previous regime gets conveniently consigned to the files as another statistic.

Uttarakhand verdict hangs in balance so does the development debate. The state has an aspiration to grow and development issue should indeed have played a critical role in building the decider. Here again the story is about an alleged corrupt politician achieving triumph while the honest contender bites the dust. The man who underperformed his Congress predecessor in GDP growth has been returned to power beating the corruption stigma that saw him being removed from the top slot a few days before the announcement of elections in the state.

Has the development issue, therefore, just acquired a touch me not tag among the political class in India? The trust deficit with the development pitch across parties has come out in the open in this verdict. And, if politicians fear development mantra does not guarantee votes, nothing on earth would bind them to the development agenda as such, as they would often pre-occupy themselves with finding merit in the age old narrow, sectarian, communal, cast and appeasement politics. But why should someone now complain?

(The author is Editor-Zee Research Group)