"The Next Big Game Changer in Elections in India" by Dr. N. Bhaskara Rao can be considered a comprehensive guide for all things "Elections" in India. With a personal experience of witnessing almost every general election in India, either as an observer or a researcher, he gives an account and analysis of what his observations so far have been. The book is meticulously divided into chapters for a better division of topics for the reader's understanding.
He has covered and discussed every turn relevant to the topic of elections. He draws examples from history to explain the fundamental idea behind elections and the deviation from that in present times. Several mentions of the first few general elections in India are deemed way better in principle and functioning than the few recent ones, even with all the advancements we enjoy. He makes a point of questioning everyone responsible for the smooth running of elections in India; the Election Commission, the political parties, the candidates, the news media, etc. He wonders about the authenticity and transparency of polling campaigns.
"Elections are not for the sake of a campaign, but are held to choose a representative of the people for a government of "We, the people." That requires voters to know who the candidates are, what their credentials are, and what their propositions are." Time and again, the author has emphasised the "free and fair" election process as crucial for the great democracy that we envision it to be. He admits that the present scenario and India’s elections and democracy, by extension, leave a lot to be desired.
The book provides an extensive study of the frontlines in the essential institutions of elections, like the complicity of the parties in the Election Commission, despite being an independent body meant for the regulation and setting up of guidelines for elections. There is a whole chapter dedicated to the issue of the EC's functionality and the decline in the relevance of the Commission as a whole and its model code and conduct in particular.
Dr. Rao constantly compares elections to "battlegrounds" and "wars," where the candidates only focus on "fighting" to get a "prize." He urges the candidates to understand that they are volunteering to serve the public and that victory or loss should not matter. He brings up another concern of candidates playing SOLO (i.e., they are concerned only about themselves and their party) rather than keeping an inclusive mindset. The news media also has a chapter dedicated to them, where Rao addresses everything the reader already knew, but the professional analysis is the nail in the coffin.
he book brings into perspective the everyday encounters with the media that are a part of the poll campaign strategy. " "Press freedom"and "free and fair elections" are two fundamentals of democracy." The race for TRP commences a competition of their own, and Rao lists the developments in the news media that have changed the poll campaigns for their own benefits. Along these lines, he even suggests four initiatives that can revive the media’s status as the fourth estate of democracy.
The book recounts the necessity of introducing symbols for the mostly illiterate population at the time of the first general election in 1951, by the first Election Commissioner, Sukumar Sen. The symbols have now gotten a bigger status than the candidate or election itself.
“From past experience and trends, it is clear that a decentralised campaign where individual candidates take the initiative back into their hands is a better proposition when local candidates and local units of the party decide the campaign course.”
The author suggests the removal of symbols altogether to make the election more about the individual candidate’s competency, rather than some elaborate political agenda.He emphasises the importance of election-related research, which is surprisingly lacking even after 75 years as a republic. It is also imperative to understand that this research should not become a tool for political parties and their vote banks. The mention of ‘India Today magazine being the first to bring out the maps in 1981–83 showing constituency-wise party positions and how constituencies elected candidates of different parties in different roles’ highlights the need for media and research to facilitate better research and better-informed elections.
I noticed a lot of the data in the book is from a few select sources, and the author even addresses this issue later in the book, pointing out that other than ECI and ADR (Association of Democratic Reform), few if any have access to what is supposed to be public information. He suggests the inclusion of some more independent bodies for a broader representation in the regulatory bodies too. In addition to being a substantial study of every aspect of elections, the book also includes several suggestions for every relevant institution. From propositions to the EC, to the media, to a framework to revive the democratic foundation, One particularly interesting one is "no-campaign elections", which might sound absurd in the times when campaigns announce the onset of elections, but the suggestion is supported by extensive research and analysis. This is also in hopes of seeing ‘One leader, one election, one country', which the author believes will be a reality shortly.
Semantically, the book is structured well, with chapters that segregate the information for a better understanding of the reader. Additional information boxes draw attention to themselves with important concepts and personal anecdotes. This adds to the idea of the election being relevant for every citizen of the country. The basic intention of the book underlines the fact that the elections need to be a cohesive effort and not just the responsibility of a specific organisation.
“The foresight of our Constitution makers is evident in the way an independent authority was provided to conduct elections freely and fairly so that we elect representative legislators. This, of course, does not mean that ECI alone will do all that. ECI needs the cooperation of the news media, academics, researchers, civil society and, even more importantly, the political leaders cutting across party lines and successive governments."
About the author
Eminent Social Scientist and analyst of public policies and issues with over
50 years of track. Delhi based Dr Rao has over 15 books over the years on
a range of topics; including two on Good Governance by SAGE, one by
NBT on Poll Surveys in India, one by Speaking Tiger, Third Eye of
Governance. He had founded well known national organisations like the
Centre for Media Studies (CMS), Marketing and Development Research
Associates (MDRA), Basic Research Education and Development (BREAD).
Earlier, he was known as Chief of India’s first Marketing and Social
research organisation (ORG).