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Pigeonholing Voters-An old electoral gimmick to carpet development failures in India!

Binny Yadav and Dr. Bobby Luthra Sinha

New buzzwords in India’s election discourse: ‘Four Castes’, labourers and Justice

India is in an election mode, the general election just weeks away and the government is negotiating once again, with the farmers, within a span of two years. While the farmers are within their constitutional ‘rights’ as citizens to do so, the government on its part is weighing through negotiations how much it can concede when the elections are just round the corner.

Timing of this protest is crucial. Do we see farmers’ demand as citizens or as voters? A reflection of the farmer’s voice, the need to indulge in dialogue with the state and the outcome could be a meaningful lens to measure India’s democratic accountability, just weeks ahead of the 18th general election in India. 

Ahead of the budget presentation in 2024, the Indian Prime Minister proclaimed farmers to be one among four ‘new castes’ and the future ‘beneficiaries’. Alongside farmers, women, youth and poor according to PM Modi are the ‘new castes’ in India. To this list of four, Congress’s Rahul Gandhi added labourers as a fifth social group which his party shall focus upon if elected.

While the BJP talks of ‘empowering’ these four ‘new castes’ to empower the nation if elected, the main opposition party of the country ensures the ‘nyaya’ (justice) to the backward classes and marginalised communities, if elected to power.

It is important to consider how and if it is really possible to single out voters as separate units of vote bank amid overlapping and fluctuating identities of India’s diverse population and demands?

Overlapping and fluctuating Identities: Are citizens just ‘prospective beneficiaries’?

Citizens are a composition of multiple identities inclusive of nationality, ethnicity, religion, profession, gender, sexuality, family or social affiliations. etc. These can overlap and interact in intricate ways, shaping how a person perceives themselves and vice-versa.

A young male farmer from Bihar casting vote may be as impacted by poverty as an agrarian widow from Maharashtra participating in elections. A young woman labourer could be from a tribe earning her living as a humble daily wager in Chhattisgarh. While, another voter could be an old milkman from the eco-religious sect of the Bishnois in Rajasthan.

Which identity will the voter carry to ballot: one, many or all? Obviously, it is impossible to divide citizens from their multiple identities or even clinically separate a politically imagined identity of a future ‘beneficiary’ that will cast a vote.

Strong women vote bank and elusive empowerment

India has seen a significant increase in its women voters in the past few years. According to a projection by SBI total voter turnout in the upcoming elections 2024 is expected to be 68 crore. Of which women voters could be around 33 crore that is 49 per cent. With 49 %, women understandably are a big chunk of the voters who are not only dedicated to vote but also an emotional voter which can be easily wooed by beneficiary schemes.

Classification of women as a distinct set of monolith voters is in fact the reflection of anxiety in political parties to catch this big chunk of women voters as a ‘bank’. Establishing women as a major beneficiary through schemes which directly benefit women has been part of ‘easy to please’ and time tested political strategy. Hence rather than investing in a long term program which results in sustainable empowerment, women voters are wooed through schemes which have an immediate dividends in the form of votes.

In spite of several schemes for women launched by the current government including ‘mission shakti’ (integrated Women Empowerment Programme), an umbrella Scheme in a mission mode aimed at strengthening intervention for safety, security and empowerment of women, the state of crime against women in India is dismal. The data discloses a staggering 445256 cases of crime against women in 2022 translating to approximately 51 FIRs every hour. Statistics of an increase in around 87% incidents of crime against women between 2011 and 2021 questions the efforts under such schemes.

Cases of female foeticide as per a research by Pew Research Center based on Union government data reflects at least 9 million cases in the years 2000–2019. Cases of female harassment expose a grim escalation as per the National Crime Records Bureau’s (NCRB) data of 2022. 

Domestic violence is a big issue with a big number reported even in metros daily and not to mention the status in smaller towns and rural areas where such incidents largely go unreported.

Political parties may be successful in pulling out a large number of women voters from home to cast their franchise but whether this converts in real empowerment of women remains a question.

Farmer a single unit of vote bank or an inclusive population

Even in the 75th year of independence, one thing which hasn’t changed is the Indian economy’s dependence on agriculture. An estimated population of farmers accounts to anywhere from 90 million-plus to almost 150 million and around 19 percent of the GDP of India is dependent on agriculture. The National Statistical Office’s Situation Assessment of Agricultural Households (SAAH) 1028-19 report pegs the country’s ‘agricultural households’ at 93.09 million. Around two-third of the Indian population is still dependent on agriculture, making it one of the most important industries.

Considering farmers as a single unit of vote bank neither has helped nor will ever be able to help address the rural needs of India and the farmers given a very diverse geographical and climatic conditions along with distinct region-centric agricultural needs and farming practices in India. Farmers in India can not be covered through a single umbrella of beneficiary schemes.

Agriculture in India is a large industry not only because of the dependence and involvement of a large section of population in it but also because the growth of several other sectors and the overall economy hinges on the performance of agriculture to a considerable extent through its backward and forward linkages.

70% of the Indian population are engaged in agriculture and raw material for the Industrial sectors like food processing company, textile industry comes from the agricultural sector. It is natural therefore that farmers’ population is always a focus in politics in India and every election farmers are referred to as a single unit of vote bank.

It is important to keep farmers in India at the core of policy making. Instead of making reckless farmer-centric policies only aiming to get this ‘large vote’ bank encashed during general elections it is important to address the needs of agriculture industry, rural development and population of rural households with an independent but assimilative approach.

Farmers are a big unit with many micro units that can be poor, women, youth looking for good education and employment for themselves or their children and can be part of the development process.

Youth, its future hinges on the nation’s socio-economic growth

In India, socio-economic issues affecting youth encompass a wide array of challenges that significantly impact their present and future well-being. One of the primary concerns is unemployment, with a large portion of the youth population struggling to secure stable and fulfilling employment opportunities.

A sizable young Indians face underemployment or are stuck in low-paying, informal jobs, exacerbating poverty and inequality. Limited access to quality education exacerbates this issue. While some urban areas boast world-class educational institutions, rural and marginalized communities often lack basic educational infrastructure and resources, perpetuating cycles of poverty and hindering social mobility.

Gender disparities in education and employment are additional barriers for young women. Gender-based violence and discrimination further exacerbate these challenges, hindering the full participation of young women in social and economic life.

Another pressing issue is the digital divide, where disparities in access to technology and internet connectivity create barriers to education, employment, and participation in the digital economy.

Issues for youth are diverse and vast, it is important to build a strong base of inclusive society with the education based on equity and future opportunity which can truly empower the youth. Youth represents the future of the nation, and can not be singled out as a beneficiary.

Equity and Justice- The need and right of every Indian

Clearly, by hovering solely on vote-bank politics to woo women, farmers, youth, the poor and the labourers, the political parties not only compete to outsmart each-other but also demonstrate a hard -to-miss political anxiety.

Nonetheless, they have failed to deliver a holistic narrative of inclusion ahead of national elections- 2024.

Why do we not see the political parties speaking at the same length about social issues in need of solutions or groups such as children, the elderly, frail, special needs and the adolescents and pre-adolescents between 10 to 18 years of age, who are the future voter

What will the parties do about the climate crisis, pollution, contamination as well as the reckless environmental overburdens that powerful corporates and their supporters are creating for India? How will the parties measure up to the ideals of a green politics and equitable as well as peaceful use and distribution of natural resources? Will the political parties not clean up their own act, by fielding principled candidates and years of grounded leadership rather than any criminal records behind them?

The electoral politics in a developing country like India, which lags in development indexes, plays up time and again in the name of empowerment while progress on the real–time upskilling and uplift on the ground remains elusive. Indians need leaders and parties that will steer it towards achieving the best in basic development indexes like education, health, nutrition, employment and happiness for the country. It is time to see through frivolous and superficial promises.









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