Home > News > Columnists > T V R Shenoy
An early election, please!
January 09, 2004
Speculation about early elections began slightly over a month ago, when the results of the assembly polls began coming in on the fourth of December. While I enjoy the cut and thrust of a general election as much as the next person, I hope and pray that the polls will indeed be early rather than late early.
We always knew that a general election was due in 2004, certainly not later than September-October. But the rumour mills in Delhi are now busy spinning talk of a general election in late April or early May. With all due respect to all concerned, I think that if it does come to an early election it should not be later than March-April. In other words, my plea is for the
earliest possible date, up to a month ahead of what people are talking about.
Why? Because there are excellent economic reasons. And if they donąt suffice, I would put forward the claim that there are also good, if secondary, administrative and political reasons.
Let me begin with the economic reasons. India is on a roll just now. The agricultural sector -- still the mainstay of the vast majority of this country -- is booming, which is a blessing after three successive years of poor monsoons. Foreign exchange reserves have crossed $100 billion. (Does everyone remember the horrifying days of 1990-1991 when the Indian treasury was so stretched that it had to pawn its gold?) The BSE and NIFTY indices are rising to record levels. (I think they reached a bit higher during the last scam, but that doesnąt really count.) Finally, GDP growth is expected to rise at over 7.5%.
But is this good enough? I contend that the process of liberalisation is far from finished. India needs more reforms, and that means more legislative and executive decisions are required. And what is all this talk of early elections doing except to divert attention from reforms? The later the date of the elections, the more reluctance there shall be to take hard decisions. True, a Budget may be presented on schedule, but what kind of a road map can it present when the men who draw it up have their minds on something else?
So I would earnestly plead that a Vote on Account be presented and the Budget be delayed until the 14th Lok Sabha can be convened. Hold the general election in March-April rather than run the risk of halting economic progress through delay and distraction.
How about the administrative reasons I mentioned? Calendars these days are so attuned to Western models that almost all of them forget to mention dates important to India. As it happens there are two major religious events in the early part of 2004. The first is the Mahamakom which will be held in Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu in February-March. The second will be the Kumbha Mela that will be held in Ujjain in April-May. Both of these, especially the Kumbha Mela, shall attract millions of devotees.
Holding the general election during the Kumbha Mela will effectively disenfranchise those lakhs of Indians who shall be making the pilgrimage of a lifetime. That is not all. Remember that the Election Commission has repeatedly testified that the dates of elections must be staggered because there simply arenąt enough policemen and administrators to go around. Now, imagine the result of several of them being absent on Kumbha Mela duty...
Finally, from the point of the National Democratic Alliance anyway, it makes far more sense to hold elections as soon as possible. Most people accept that there is a 'Feel Good Factor' in the air right now, but this is an ephemeral thing which can dissipate very soon. Most such emotional issues act that way; look at Chandrababu Naidu -- he expected to take advantage of the sympathy wave following the botched assassination attempt on him in Tirupati, but the delay has upset all his calculations. On that count alone it makes sense for the government of the day to seize what little advantage there is in the 'Feel Good Factor.'
I am sure that some partners in the National Democratic Alliance shall argue that delaying polls will give them more time to prepare. Well, by the same token it also gives more opportunity for the Congress (I) to patch up an alliance of its own to match the National Democratic Alliance.
At this point, it seems that a September-October election is out of the window. If the choice is then one of early dates, I hope the prime minister opts for the earliest possible option.