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anilbhatia anilbhatia at indiatimes.com
Thu Aug 7 11:31:54 IST 2003

Why the Dipty-PMji is wrong 


Dipty-PM Advaniji says elections every year distract from serious policymaking, so why don�t we lump state and assembly elections together? Is that correct? Do polls really distract governments from policymaking? What policies are affected by elections? What sort of regimes get the jitters before polls? Are elections a bore anyway?
First, the facts. Five states � Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Mizoram will go to polls in November this year. Next year, six states � Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Goa and Sikkim � will have elections, followed later in the year by Lok Sabha polls. Diptyji wants to club all these into one mega jamboree. There�s nothing in the Constitution to make that happen and regimes that fancy their chances of reelection can dissolve their assemblies and call elections. It�s been done before and if I were Shiela Dikshit, SM Krishna, Ashok Gehlot, Ajit Jogi or even Digvijay Singh I�d hold polls exactly as scheduled and hope to win one more time. 
Two, many people gripe about pre-poll �populism� and sometimes they�re right, but I can�t think up a General Theory of Paralysis because I can think of lots of policies that are popular and can be pushed through even before elections. 
For example, Dikshit has done great work in Delhi, clearing the air by shifting buses to natural gas, privatising power distribution, building flyovers and a metro rail system. The shift to gas and power privatisation were �tough� decisions because they upset public transport and vested interests for a while, but Dikshit timed everything perfectly. She implemented both in her early years: by 2003 Delhi air was clean and buses were running on time. This summer, the second after privatisation, had fewer blackouts than last year. Next summer, power cuts might be history. Dikshit goes into elections with visible signs of progress and lots of work going on without fuss: flyovers, a pipeline to bring water to Delhi and the metro rail system. These upset nobody. Polls haven�t kept Dikshit from work.
My intrepid colleague, Shubhrangshu Roy, has recently returned from Rajasthan with tales of what makes Ashok Gehlot a favourite to win the elections. Gehlot has reformed the electricity sector, not a �populist� thing to do, by aligning tariffs to costs, got people to pour investment into technical and higher education, boosted the gems industry, built roads and so on. Ajit Jogi of Chhattisgarh wants to turn his state into a powerhouse capable of generating 50,000 megawatts, about half India�s current capacity. He�s wired up most villages to electricity grids and is exporting power that costs between 70 paise to Rs 1.50 to other states for a reasonable Rs 2.40 per unit. Digvijay Singh has taken time out from spiking his soda with cow-pee to get road-building projects working. It�s wrong to say that all politicians spend time before polls on their hind-ends.
But some do and Diptyji should know, because most of them belong to his party, the BJP. Today, the BJP is in power in two states: it rules Gujarat and is part of a BSP-led coalition in UP. Since 1998, when the BJP ruled Gujarat, growth plummeted from 19%, 4% and 14% in the three preceding years to 1% in 1998-99 and 4% next year. It took a communal riot, not development, for Narendra Modi to hang on to power. The BJP has been in power fitfully in UP through the 1990s, so the only issues that seem to matter there are religious fundamentalism and caste. Policymaking? Who�re you kidding Diptyji?
The BJP is in power at the Centre since 1998. Since then, average growth is down to about 5% each year from the near-6.5% average of the previous six. The revenue deficit, a measure of wasteful spending, has shot up. Jaswant Singh has backtracked on fertiliser price hikes and implementing VAT. Ram Naik doesn�t want a regulator on his turf, won�t free up oil prices and will soak state-owned oil companies to subsidise well-off users of cooking gas. Selloff minister Arun Shourie, who�s seen his own party block privatisation, now keeps busy looking after telecom and standing in for Arun Jaitley in trade negotiations. And what keeps Jaitley away from his job? He has to protect Diptyji from charges that the CBI, under PMji, watered down a chargesheet to favour mantris, including Diptyji.
Finally, think through Diptyji�s argument: if polls imply policy myopia or paralysis, then what�s the prescription to achieve an active, far-sighted policy regime? Abolish elections outright. That way, we might become another Singapore or China. Or, perhaps, Idi Amin�s Uganda, Saddam�s Iraq,  Milosevic�s Bosnia, or Liberia under Charles Taylor. The Dipty-PM is wrong. You can�t � and shouldn�t � justify policy failure by pointing a finger at elections.
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