Increasingly, denizens of “Youngistan” – the 65% of Indians under age 35 – are demanding clean politics. Political parties are scrambling to present “clean” candidates as the April 2014 general election approaches.
“Earlier, corruption was considered such an integral part of life that people did not make it an issue in elections. But in the coming season, it is going to be the number one issue,” said economist and election expert Jayashree Sengupta. “People want to know which party will do what to end corruption.”
“In the world’s largest democracy, political leaders were unexceptionally seen as corrupt. Now political parties are keen to overhaul this image,” Ashish Nandy, a Delhi-based sociologist, told Khabar South Asia. “Therefore the new urge is to look for exceptions by roping in non-professional politicians.”
On October 23rd, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is seeking to make gains in next year’s national election and in next month’s “semi-finals” in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, named respected surgeon Harsh Vardhan, 59, as a leading candidate for the 70-seat Delhi state legislature.
The BJP chose Vardhan over charismatic leader Vijay Goel, chiefly because of the former’s “clean” image.
“In today’s India, people are frustrated with corruption in high places. The BJP is promising clean governance and therefore needed Harsh Vardhan, who lives simply and has never been accused of graft,” BJP national president Rajnath Singh told Khabar.
The move was designed to counter the anti-corruption campaign of new political entity Aam Admi Party(“Common Man’s Party” or AAP). Its leader, Arvind Kejriwal, is a former tax officer regarded as incorruptible, and a devoted follower of the charismatic social activist Anna Hazare, who fasted publicly in 2011 to demand a new law to book corrupt officials.
“The Anna Hazare-led public demonstrations against corruption were dominated by young Indians. While their fathers accept corruption as a part of India’s democratic fabric, those under 35 are demanding greater transparency and accountability,” political scientist Kamal Mitra Chenoy of Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University told Khabar.
“The political elite of India is now realising that ‘Youngistan’ votes cannot be taken for granted and so they are on the lookout for a new breed of politicians who they think would imbibe the Anna Hazare-released spirit. Harsh Vardhan is the most visible effect yet.”
Clean to win
In state after state, leaders considered “clean” and without taint are being chosen to contest elections at all levels. Some elected leaders, meanwhile, have defied the corrupt politician stereotype.
Notable among them is West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who lives amid poverty in Kolkata and refuses even to ride a government-provided vehicle to work. Gujarat’s Narendra Modi, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, also reportedly lives a Spartan lifestyle.
Assam Chief Minister and Congress Party (CP) member Tarun Gogoi addressed the issue September 29th on the sidelines of the National Development Council meeting in Delhi. “In the next general election, our party will take a serious view of corruption,” Gogoi told reporters. “Tickets will be denied to people who have allegations of corruption against them.”
Surveys predict that the AAP, registered only since early 2013, will get about 22% to 26% of votes in a three-way competition with the CP and BJP in the December 4th Delhi state election
In all, 113 million voters in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Mizoram will select chief ministers and legislators.
Corruption fatigue has boiled over in recent years as the Comptroller and Auditor General of India probed alleged corruption and mismanagement in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government thought to be worth billions of dollars.
India was ranked 94th out of 176 countries on Munich-based watchdog Transparency International’s 2012 “Corruption Perception Index“, which grades governments based on several graft-related factors.
Courtesy – Khabar South Asia