More interesting comments on Verdict 2009

Arun has in an earlier post already drawn attention to certain views about what Verdict 2009 means. I found two comments which are very interesting. The first is by Ashis Nandy in the latest Tehelka titled “End of Arrogance-The Hour of the Untamed Cosmopolitan” (here). The second is the Editorial comment in the latest EPW titled “Myths and Hypotheses” (here). The EPW editorial cautions against jumping to conclusions about the meaning behind the verdict. It merely identifies a few issues that need to be reflected upon for a period of time to achieve meaningful theorisation. The editorial is one of the most balanced commentaries so far on the results.

Ashis Nandy’s piece is more “conclusive” than the EPW editorial, but he makes some important points not only on the nature of India’s politics but also on the nature of Indian society. He believes that India’s diversity has been asserted through this result, in addition to the rejection of arrogance. While caste remains important, it is not the decisive factor because of the assertion of a number of castes. This last point is very interesting and was also borne out in a survey that DAKSH (a NGO, I work with) carried out in 2008 in Karnataka. The majority of the respondents said that caste was not an important criteria for them when choosing their representative in an election. While we dismissed this initially as a problem in the manner the survey was executed, discussions with sociologists revealed that in no constituency can a single caste determine the result on its own. A combination of castes have to vote for a candidate to win. Further, invariably there will be multiple candidates from the same caste resulting in a split of the caste votes. Leaving that point for a later and more detailed discussion, I think that both the EPW and the Ashis Nandy articles make a more realistic and sober assessment of the election verdict unlike various other gushing reviews. Among the gushing reviews, I found Fareed Zakaria’s views the most astounding and far fetched. On CNN-IBN, just after the elections, he claimed that the result was an indication of India embracing modernity! I do not find any written pieces where he makes the same claim, although he does claim that the results are India’s coming-out party in his piece in Newsweek (here), which is a more sober assessment.

Written by
Harish Narsappa
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  • It is no accident that the real factor that won the UPA this election is its NREGA scheme and loan waiver for farmers. Even if 90 percent of this money is pilfered, it permeates into the countryside. Not all of the corruption is in Delhi and Bhubaneswar. A lot of the siphoning happens lower down the chain. Even those who rob, must spend. This boosts the local economy. This pays electoral dividends. India’s poor always vote. That is India’s best checkmate for arrogance.

    This is the penultimate para from Ashish Nandy’s article on the Election Results of 2009, in Tehelka (which I read on your reco). Something about it sits too uneasy for me to accept. Corruption boosts voting in rural India??!! I know that is an over-simplification of the analysis but still, am I totally off?

  • This is a response to pchirmar’s comments. Nandy’s conclusion is not that corruption boosts voting in rural India- he is saying that in spite of corruption, NREGA has benefited the rural populace. And in spite of corruption the rural populace continue to vote and that is the best checkmate to arrogance.

  • I think there is the one step that is being missed, which is the scheme boosted cash-inflow into the rural sector, where the corruption inflitrates deeper downwards. And although the intended benefactors of the schemes dont see all of the money, they BENEFIT from the corruption indirectly, i.e., when the corrupt official expend their ill-gotten gains. Basically whether the money comes directly or indirectly, the poor – who vote most – see some of the benefits of the NREGA.And hence, voted for the party they thought was responsible for their development (whats unsettling about this theory to me personally – also for the proliferation of corruption deeper down the food-chain of bureaucratic heirarchy in rural India).
    Whats truly bothersome is that by this logic, in the worst case scenario for schemes such as NREGA come without sufficient mechanisms of transperancy and accountability, policy makers neednt worry too much. They will anyway reap voting dividends since the money finds its way into the rural economy anyway.

  • Well, before the results were announced, nobody said NREGA will give Congress the numbers it eventually took. Not even Congress seemed to be so optimistic about the NREGA. Now that the numbers are out, I am sure, scholars must invent some factor to avoid an inevitable conclusion – Indian elections are least understood so far and predictability is simply out of question. Why cannot scholars, for once, accept that they just do not know what works and what doesn’t in the elections in this country? Too radical a suggestion? I would think, given the uncritical masses that make up the audience for these scholars, they can easily afford to simply continue with stories for more time to come.