The voters' priorities are clear. Better employment opportunities, healthcare, drinking facilities and other basic amenities score over topical ‘political’ rhetoric.
An all-India survey conducted by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) released last week revealed that employment, healthcare, electricity etc were bigger concerns for voters rather than other governance issues like terrorism and strong defence or military.
The survey covering 534 Lok Sabha constituencies with 2, 73,487 voters spread among various demographics asked voters’ priorities on specific governance issues and their ratings of the government's performance on those issues, and factors affecting voting behaviour.
Agrarian related issues also featured prominently on the voters’ priorities while an administrative concern 'Better Law and Order/Policing' rounded up of the top ten.
Over the past two years, the governments in power, both at the Centre and state/UT level, were found wanting in all those voter’s concerns, which the made the survey to conclude that it is “indisputably” the result of prevailing governance deficit in these sectors.
Coincidentally, another independent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center also reported that the lack of employment opportunities was seen by the Indian public as the "biggest challenge” and “76 per cent of adults concurred” that little had changed over the past year.
Do voters' priorities correspond with the main poll planks of the major political parties? Not necessarily and based on their opening salvo, political rhetoric seems to have precedence over developmental and other governance issues.
Launching his party’s official general election campaign in Meerut, the same place where he kick-started the blitzkrieg campaign in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in full nationalistic fervour, rather than tackling governance issues.
“Be it on land, air or in space, this chowkidar of yours is the one who had the courage to do surgical strikes,” he reportedly asserted. Mixing jingoism with religion, he said: “Our vision is of a new India that will be in tune with its glorious past.”
The choice of ideology over pragmatism is deliberate. Modi previously rode on development plank and promises of a rare departure from the past dispensation. The voters were promised the moon, but the performance as affirmed by the ADR’s survey had not been very ‘luminous.’
For instance, drastic policy changes on the economic sector such as demonetization as well as the Goods and Services Tax, by all account considered ‘great’ successes by the incumbent government could have been highlighted as notable feats during the campaign. The conspicuous silence on the issue so far would suggest that the outcomes have been otherwise. On employment, the data are contentious, with both sides of the debate, interpreting data as per their convenience. No tall claim by the ruling dispensation, however, indicates that the picture is not bright. Devoid of such achievements, nationalism and sectarian politics often ascribing to well-proven majoritarian rhetoric, thus, assumes centre stage.
For the Congress, the opening round was purely on ideological line. “No sacrifice was too great to defeat the RSS and BJP ideology of ‘fascism, hatred, anger and divisiveness,’ the party president Rahul Gandhi was quoted as saying, offering secularism as the alternative. Whether to voter see the party as a viable option to the rhetoric offered by the other end of the spectrum, is a moot point. Besides, regional aspiration and ability to stick winnable alliance will prove a long way reaching the magic number.
While the ADR’s survey did not cover Nagaland state, the priorities would be more or less similar. It is imperative to ascertain if the contenders in the state bye-election and general election have concerns for 'real issues' or are to adopt other methods. Incidentally, the survey revealed a ‘distressing’ factor that swings for voter’s behaviour - cash, liquor and other freebies.
A no misnomer in the real sense!