Chandigarh: If I weren’t inside this election campaign, seeing the TV coverage and headlines of the last month I would have thought this nation was voting on the issue of a convicted actor and his offers to hug & kiss a chief minister. Or about the mischief of a son of a mischievous and infamous father; or that every regional chieftain wants to be Prime Minister; or some other daily absurdity.
The common woman, man and child are reeling under twin attack of political and media apathy toward real issues. While this election could have been a referendum on any of the dozens of serious and critical issues facing our cities and nation – it is about the usual pomp, show, controversies and celebrities. Style has taken over substance in replay of all the past elections and issues have been pushed aside. What good all new electronic media, communication tools if we cannot bring issues to the fore and make them unavoidable when politicians ask for our vote. Obviously, no good.
Just how our political class and media have become so disconnected with the real lives of Indians is in itelf an issue. but like all other substantive discussions – this is a debate remarkable for not taking place.
In my one month of campaign in Chandigarh, not one person – not in the markets, nor slums or villages ever brings up the headlines I read. People talk about issues. I mostly listen and sometimes suggest a solution. But every hour of the day, every minute of the hour when I am out campaigning, irrespective of economic or social status – people talk about their children and grand children’s education. They worry that their children could be trapped in the vicious cycle of poverty and unemployent they have seen all their lives. Their concerns vary but the issue of education is universal. That is why it was sad to see that only two candidates, myself and Satya Pal Jain turn up for the only Chandigarh debate of this election on education. It was sadder yet to see almost no media interest. Candidates pretend to talk about issues, media pretends to cover it. Airing of public discontent and over issues is not the same as conducting serious debate and analysis. What we need is serious discourse, discussion over the nuances of problems and solutions proposed so people can make informed choices on issues and solutions. Unfortunately such discussion and debate is completely absent from this election.
Irrespective the reports of statistical growth, traders talk of a deep recession. Sales are down half or more but there is no tax relief and no bail out. Instead, Indian government is thinking of pumping US$ 10 Billion into the IMF so it can lend to failed nations like Pakistan. That’s right, our government is lending to IMF so it can lend to the country whose leadership has its hands covered red with Indian blood. While traders talk of grim times, workers and landless labourers cannot find even the most basic daily wages work, how is it that the economic policies of parties and candidates not an issue?
Where has all the discussion on poverty gone? I have been shocked to see the poverty in Chandigarh slums. Those who can work, eke some hand to mouth life; but the ill, infirm, weak and the old have no existence at all.
Tens of thousands of children have no-where to play and while their time away in open sewage that flows through our slums and villages. They fall prey to disease which is often fatal. Their health in ruins, our nation’s future is literally going down the drain. How is absence of community centres and sports facilities not an issue and why is it so important to waste miles of column space on the lifestyle and plans of one Olympic shooter when millions of lives can be saved through sport and are being destroyed because of a complete lack of sport and cultural facilities! Where is our sense of priorities !
I am enraged by the fact I find a liquor shop every ten yards in Chandigarh. It might be difficult to find milk at 7 AM in Chandigarh but liquor is never more than a stone’s throw away. Drugs are easier to come by. How come liquor and drugs are not an issue!
Crime against elderly and ordinary people is so common now but seldom solved or punished. There are increasing muggings and alcohol-drug induced sexual crimes all across our rural-urban sprawl. Why is crime not an issue?
Behind the economic debri we have a huge social crisis. Sexual ad physical abuse of helpless women and children is on the increase. Female foeticide is on the rise. AIDS epidemic is spreading uncontrolled. Our urban infrastructure had collapsed, public transport is in tatters, public facilities non-existent, children are getting addicted to glue and cheap drugs and we are obsessed in the time of this election with the game of cricket !
When you look in people’s eyes, there is despair and fear that we are sliding back into the dark ages. Across the street from our prosperous condominiums such violence and frustration, deprivation and despair lives that I fear the fabric of our society could be torn any moment. How is this not an issue?
We have no health care system to speak of. I visited the emergency ward of north India’s most famous hospital last week. Hundreds lay in corridors, stench of burning flesh, vomit and death hung in the air. Without doctors or attendants, air conditioning unable to cope with the crowds, people gasping for breath, screaming with pain, relatives in despair, it resembled a war zone from a hundred years ago. Families sleep on the dug-up pavements, they have no food and no facilities. The last good samaritan who ran a food shelter on the street without any help from administration has shut it for lack of support and last ray of hope for people is now gone. How is our healthcare and condition in trauma wards not an issue!
People talk of land grabs by government which is hand in gloves with developers, they talk of unbearable corruption, and hundreds of other issues that I never find reflected in the campaigns. Why can the candidates and parties not be forced by public, social and community organizations and media to sit each day and face real questions? Instead we are having to listen to stories of who has managed to buy which interest group and which chief has migrated with his loyalties. Or who has declared what wealth as if that will somehow solve our problems.
Perhaps it is not too late for all of us, individually and collectively to ask our media and our candidates to focus on issues. They may not be able to solve them overnight but facing the real issues and talking about them will at least give the common man hope he has not been forgotten and from discussion, perhaps a few real solutions can emerge.
Just for the remaining days of this election, let us not allow the democratic process to turn into a vulgar joke on people. Please bring back the issues to the elections.
By: Ajay Goyal