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Rescheduling Judgement Day
November 25, 2003
For much of the last four years, you could have followed the news in any of the nation's major publications and arrived at a more or less uniform conclusion about Mr Chandrababu Naidu. The eulogies to the chief minister's high-tech governance have been similar enough that with only minor editing the publications could have easily swapped each other's coverage of the leader from Andhra Pradesh. An assortment of Indian business leaders and multinational institutions have rounded out the praise-parade nicely, and the few missteps that were noted didn't get very much attention. These were merely understandable glitches in a get-it-done government.
Or so we were led to believe. Perhaps you read all those reports and came to the conclusion that the chief minister was incredibly popular, and would be re-elected with no trouble at all. That, it turns out, would have been a mistake.
Shortly after he survived a bomb attack from some of his subjects, Mr Naidu decided that the time was ripe to cash in on the inevitable sympathy that would follow. And so, he's decided it must be election time again in Andhra Pradesh. I've never heard of a politician who couldn't wait for his term to end, and Mr Naidu isn't about to set an unexpected precedent. The only reason to bring the polls forward is that he expects a more favorable verdict from the voters than might be the case if he waited the full term. He wouldn't be the first to try this sleight of political hand, and we cannot find him particularly more egregious than those who have trod this path before.
The one glitch in this scheme is the Election Commission's unwillingness to go along with his play, but with some cleverly restated truths that could possibly be managed. Here's T V R Shenoy who cannot understand the EC's desire to 'delay' the election, and says 'the EC is never prepared.' Why anyone, let alone the commissioner of elections, would 'prepare' for an early end to the term of a government that isn't facing any political trouble, he does not bother to ask. Whether it is reasonable for the EC to update electoral rolls in time for Mr.Naidu's term to expire, he does not. But he's certain that James Lyngdoh is 'delaying' the election, and that a constitutional crisis will be upon us should he prevail.
I mean, what's the rush? If Mr. Naidu's as much of a certain thing as he's made out to be, surely he can afford to have an election according to the expected schedule, rather than advance it to milk the people's emotions, can't he?
Or, could it be that the multiple reports of glowing government aren't very close to the truth? Could it be that people not more than a hundred kilometers from his office are fleeing in droves to urban centers in other states looking for a job -- any job -- that will keep them alive? Could it be that the grand vision of development that surrounds his policies is too narrowly tailored, and a great majority of the Telugu people have very little invested in it? Could it be that the largesse from New Delhi that supports his spending might falter if the durbar at Delhi should fall into other hands? Is the demand for an earlier election a pre-emptive strike on the Centre's treasury?
The practice of calling early elections to take advantage of favorable conditions is an insult to the voters. If Mr Naidu believes that at the time of the last election he obtained the confidence of the electorate to govern a full term, he should certainly do that. That is the privilege he would have claimed at the beginning of the term, and he'll certainly want a full five years should he be re-elected again. If, on the other hand, he believes that he no longer holds the confidence the people expressed four years ago, he should step aside. To demand an election to confirm the people's favor at an opportune time is the clearest indication of their likely disfavor at the scheduled time!
Judging by the past, it seems certain Mr Lyngdoh will prevail. Whenever partisan efforts to thwart his proper role as commissioner have made it to the courts, the EC has emerged on top. Very likely, then, that Mr Naidu's effort to set a favorable stage this time has little chance of survival. A face-saving compromise cannot be ruled out, however, and we will probably see the elections held slightly earlier than they otherwise might have been. But that's the most the CM can hope for. Beyond that, he'll have to take his chances with the voters, who'll rate him on his actual performance, not just their temporarily favorable disposition toward a man dodging bombs.