The forthcoming Lok Sabha elections seem to be the only topic of discussion these days in India.
The Indian and foreign media, politicians, political pundits and so forth are all falling head over heels commenting on the forthcoming elections, working out permutations and combinations as to which party will win how many seats, what kind of government will be formed, etc. All sorts of opinion polls are being displayed, using various methodologies, including comments of 'experts'.
But no one seems interested in the cardinal question: Will the result of the Lok Sabha elections make any difference in the people's lives? In other words, will it have any effect on the level of massive poverty, record unemployment, appalling child malnutrition, widespread farmers' distress, almost total lack of healthcare and good education for the masses, widening divide between the rich and poor in India and myriad other problems?
In my opinion, it will not. Yes, the number of lynchings of Muslims and framing of members of the community on false charges and attacks on Christians will go down a bit if the BJP does not get a majority, but that is about all. Beyond that, nothing substantial will change in India.
The test of every political system and activity is one and only one: does it raise the standard of living of the people and does it give them decent lives? From that standpoint, the coming Lok Sabha elections are to my mind really irrelevant (except for the aforementioned matter).
My own guess is that no party will get an absolute majority in Parliament or anywhere near it, and there will be a coalition government in the Centre. The first thing that will then happen will be that there will be squabbling for lucrative portfolios such as the ministries of finance, commerce, telecom and industry. Even thereafter, the coalition partners will keep fighting, as it happened when the Janata Party government was formed in 1977 after the Emergency.
After the last strong Mughal emperor, Aurangzeb, died in 1707, there were the later Mughals who ruled in India till 1857 when the last Mughal ruler, Bahadur Shah Zafar, was deposed and exiled by the British. These later Mughals were emperors only in name as they had lost their empire to local satraps like Nizam ul Mulk and Safdar Jung; the nawabs of Avadh, Murshidabad and Arcot; Tipu Sultan; the Marathas; the Sikhs and later the British.
This period from 1707-1857—when the later Mughals ruled—was a period of great instability and turmoil in India. It was after suppressing the Sepoy Mutiny in 1857 and the consolidation of British rule that a period of relative stability and peace came in India (there were, no doubt, the Partition riots of 1947, wars with China and Pakistan, etc., but these were of short duration).
Now after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, my guess is that India will again enter into a period of instability and turmoil, like that witnessed in the reign of the later Mughals.
The state institutions in India have largely collapsed and become hollow and empty shells, and the Constitution of 1950 has exhausted itself (see my article Why celebrate Republic Day when Constitution has become a scarecrow?). On the other hand, the people's distress is mounting.
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Unemployment has touched record heights, as mentioned in the National Sample Survey Report (which was leaked out); as much as 47 per cent Indian children are malnourished (as stated by the Global Hunger Index), which is a figure far higher than that of the poorest sub-Saharan countries like Somalia; farmers suicides are continuing unabated (they crossed the 3 lakh figure long ago); healthcare and good education for the masses are in an abysmal condition, etc.
Where all this will end, no one can say, but this much can be said with certainty: dark days are ahead for India. As the great Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib wrote Aata hai abhi dekhiye kya kya merey aage. And as the Chinese adage says, "High unpredictable winds and misfortunes are in the sky".
Justice Markandey Katju retired from the Supreme Court in 2011
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author's and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of THE WEEK