The Constitution has, under Article 326, adopted universal adult suffrage. Since Independence, the governments, both at the Centre and in the states, have been formed through the secret ballots of the adult populace. The electorate has, voted for liberty, unity, peace and security. But, though the election per se is a political phenomenon, some extraneous factors have unfortunately dominated the people’s electoral behaviour. Therefore, any study of matters electoral calls for an analysis of the various aspects of the lives and mindset of the electorate.
Indeed, Indians are deeply committed to political democracy based on the British system. But they are largely motivated by various sentiments and the political leaders clearly utilise their emotions for their own electoral benefits. Thus, elections have witnessed the ugly activities of the politicians seeking votes on grounds of religion, caste, regionalism, money and so on.
It is necessary to discuss the role of these factors. First, religion is a dominating factor in elections. The country, since the ancient era, has been home to people of various religious beliefs. As often as not, communal frenzy and riots have resulted in bloodshed. Though we have expressly adopted the secular principle, the people, by and large, have nurtured a feeling of religious separatism. It is a feeling that is manifest in the election of the candidates. So, no political party can ignore the religious sentiments and prejudices. Often, the people of a particular religion go to the polling booths after carefully considering the religious structure of the particular constituency. As SL Sikri has observed, “Taking advantage of this communal thinking, the political parties operate on the basis of religion” (Indian Government And Politics, p. 112).
Thus, religion and politics have been unethically blended and this peculiar “compound” is now playing havoc. Second, caste is also an ugly aspect of our electoral politics. However, in the big cities casteism is not much effective; but in rural areas, it plays a dominant role in choosing the candidates. As G. Roson has pointed out, it is naive to expect that casteism will not play a more significant part in the elections to come (Democracy and Economic Change, p. 74) In fact, the majority of voters choose the candidate of a certain caste even if his opponents are candidates of better calibre. As WH Morris Jones puts it, “politics is more important to caste and castes are more important in politics than ever before” (Government and Politics of India, p. 64). In the same way, VM Sirsikar has observed that ‘it assumes a new role of regulating political behaviour’ (Caste and Politics).
Third, regionalism is another determinant in electoral politics. As M Brecher has pointed out, there are some problems which are regional in nature and most of the voters feel that none but the local candidates can deal with them effectively. Localism has thus gained ground in our elections (Political Succession in India, p. 440). So, a candidate of a distant locality is often rejected as an ‘outsider’ in the local polls. This sentiment is so touchy that it has even led to the break-up of some provinces on linguistic lines.
Fourth, the economic class has also determined election results in different areas. In Mumbai, Kanpur, Ahmedabad and other industrial regions, the results have largely been settled by the Marxist voters. Similarly, in the rich and capitalist areas, the votes of the upper class have helped the rightist parties. Clearly, class politics in India has come to assume a critical role in elections.
Fifth, language also plays an important part in the electoral choice. This is such a strong sentiment that people of the same language seek to live in the same locality and, as a stark reality, some provinces have been split on the linguistic issue. So, most of the voters pick the candidates who speak the same language. Thus, often the election largely becomes a linguistic issue.
Money is no less a factor that determines dividend at the hustings. Crores are spent by the political parties in their frantic attempt to secure votes and assume power. The major parties are often funded by industrialists who, in turn, are eager to seek advantage in their own economic activity.
There is thus an unholy nexus on the basis of a give-and-take policy. It has been pointed out by ND Palmer that these profit-earners had provided a fair amount of money to the Congress during the early years of Independence. The party was able to capture power in the whole country. But, with the break-up of the Congress monolith, a multy-party system has eventually come up and, hence, some other big parties have similarly become financial beneficiaries of the electoral system (India’s Political Parties ~ Studies In Indian Democracy, edited by Aiyar Srinivasan, p. 582). In a sense, votes are purchased by the enriched parties.
Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Jayaprakash Narayan, for instance, had largely influenced the voters to stand behind their parties and a large number of people were almost mesmerised by their charm. They were hardly bothered with the ideology of such leaders ~ they voted for them only with a feeling of hero-worship. Even now, Lalu Prasad, Mulayam Singh Yadav and some others similarly play a charismatic role in the elections in their respective states. Thus, by dint of their popularity, some leaders often rule the roost.
Gender also plays an important role in electoral politics. This had helped Indira Gandhi and Jayalalitha. Similarly, the male voters generally choose their brethren in the polls, ignoring the female aspirants. Family tradition is also a dominant factor. In fact, many families are traditionally devoted to a particular party and the elders are so influential, even overbearing, that the younger generation can scarcely think independently on matters political, still less alter the family’s political preference and prejudice. Clearly, various non-political factors actually determine electoral politics in different ways. In fact, there has been no election in which such factors as religion, caste, language, sex etc. have not played a significant role.
(The writer is former Reader, New Alipore College, Kolkata)