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THE CARNIVAL IS OVER

The loudspeakers have fallen silent; the venues of rallies are bereft of human beings, but not of the litter they leave behind. The carnival is over. Tired candidates have gone home or to their party offices to discuss the campaign and the possible outcomes. What remains after the excitement is the expectation that could turn to disappointment for some and elation for others five days from today. Elections in India are always highly charged; this history notwithstanding, the elections in 2014 had an edge to them which was missing in the polls held in the recent past. What was evident was the presence of a formidable challenge to the ruling dispensation. This challenge — and this was something new in Indian politics — emerged not in the form of a political formation but in the form of an individual. Narendra Modi left his lair in Gujarat to take on the Congress. His party, after some initial hesitation, accepted his leadership. It is Mr Modi’s relentless assault against the Congress, against the United Progressive Alliance government and against the Nehru-Gandhi family that has framed the agenda of the just-concluded election campaign.

This feature of the electioneering perhaps explains why the campaign has been so shrill and so lacking in the presentation of critical issues which affect the lives of Indians. Everyone, irrespective of ideological colour, agrees that poverty, unemployment, health and education are important issues for India’s development, but no political party quite informed the voters how it would address these problems if it had political power. The speeches were personality-driven and personality-directed. Thus, everyone knows what Mr Modi thinks of the Gandhis and what the latter think of the chief minister of Gujarat. This is true at the provincial level too. Take West Bengal, for example, where the battle of words between two chief ministers — Mr Modi and Mamata Banerjee — acquired epic and shocking dimensions. Matters came to such a pass that one chief minister, in utter disregard for all codes and conventions, began addressing her rival by the Bengali equivalent of thou. Rivalry evaporated respect.

The campaign has done nobody proud. If anything, it has demonstrated all over again that elections in India are sans issue: they are about sound and fury, signifying not the future of India but victors and losers. Admittedly, this is a very cynical take on the Indian elections. The flip side is the popular participation in the entire process. This is indicated not only by the turnout but also by the attendance at rallies and in the general buzz. For more than a month, people have talked about little else save the elections and what they will bring forth. Once the last ballot is cast on Monday, India will wait for good governance, which Godot-like, may not materialize. India lives in hope.