Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Unhealthy patterns

In Nagaland, as is the case throughout the country, the public’s frustration with political parties that time and again fail to deliver on their promises has remained alarmingly consistent. This pervasive disillusionment is not only justified but also indicative of a deeply rooted problem in our multi-party system. As cliché as it comes across, it is, nevertheless, high time for the political parties to recognise the gravity of the situation, introspect and reorient themselves towards addressing the genuine needs and aspirations of the electorate. The glaring chasm between political rhetoric and ground reality is for all to see ~ there is no hiding from it, regardless of the obviously expensive PR whitewashing projects both at national and State levels. Election campaigns, fuelled by grandiose promises, have become an exercise in deception. Voters are promised utopian visions of development, prosperity and social justice but once the ballots are cast, these pledges are conveniently forgotten. The disconnect between the political elite and the common citizen has never been more pronounced. All attempts at justification by the political cheerleaders notwithstanding, the frustration of the public with political parties that consistently fail to deliver on their promises is entirely justified. This frustration is not merely a by-product of the complexity of Indian politics; it is a symptom of a deeper malaise within our political system. Even as electoral democracy has taken strong root in India, there is no gainsaying the fact that some unhealthy patterns have emerged. Parties must reorient themselves towards the genuine needs and aspirations of the electorate, prioritise long-term policies over short-term populism and commit to transparency, accountability and internal reforms. One must acknowledge that Indian politics is a complex web of regional, ideological and communal interests. However, this complexity should not be used as a smokescreen to mask the apathy and inefficiency of political parties. These parties must realise that their primary duty is to serve the people, not to engage in power plays and petty squabbles. The first step towards restoring faith in our political system is for parties to genuinely understand and address the real needs and aspirations of the electorate. This requires a shift from short-term, populist measures to long-term, sustainable policies that foster inclusive growth. It is never acceptable for parties to exploit divisive issues or pander to narrow vote banks for electoral gains. The electorate deserves substantive change and accountable governance at all levels ~ national, regional and local. Transparency and accountability within political parties are paramount. It is both disheartening and embarrassing to witness a lack of internal democracy, rampant corruption and the sidelining of well-intentioned leaders within parties. This not only undermines the credibility of the parties but also erodes the trust of the public. Parties must commit to internal reforms that promote meritocracy, ethical conduct and open decision-making processes. Another glaring issue is the absence of a mechanism for tracking and evaluating the progress of electoral promises. Parties make lofty commitments during campaigns but rarely provide a clear roadmap for implementation. It is high time for parties to be held accountable for their pledges. A comprehensive and publicly accessible database of promises made and fulfilled should be established to ensure transparency and accountability. The media also bears a significant responsibility in holding political parties accountable. Unfortunately, the current media landscape is often characterised by sensationalism, bias and a focus on personality politics rather than policy analysis. The media should prioritise its role as a watchdog, scrutinising the actions and promises of political parties and providing the electorate with unbiased information. Electoral reform is long overdue. The current first-past-the-post system often leads to fragmented mandates, coalition politics and horse-trading. Parties should seriously consider alternatives such as proportional representation to ensure that the will of the people is accurately reflected in the composition of legislatures. More importantly, as many processes that go into the conduct of elections have begun to be undermined, it is time to put the Election Commission back on the rails and fix it.