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Tavleen Singh writes: With major state elections every year, India seems to remain in election season endlessly

Last week brought a whirlwind of political events. They were all too important to ignore in a topical column. There was the gathering in Mumbai of men and women who have come together to challenge Narendra Modi in the next general election. Barely had this conclave of the I.N.D.I.A. alliance begun when came the news that two major British newspapers had written about the creative business dealings of Gautam Adani making the point that he was a close crony of our Prime Minister.

This bit of ‘breaking news’ was hardly digested when came the announcement of a special session of Parliament amid rumours that it would see the introduction of a bill to hold simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and all our state legislatures.

Let me address these three things chronologically. The conclave in Mumbai was heralded with full-page advertisements in the local newspapers that showed the faces of political leaders from Kashmir to Kanyakumari who have been around for a very long time. Some came with their progeny and political heirs as if to make Modi’s point that their only political doctrine is dynastic democracy. I do not always share the Prime Minister’s worldview but on this I agree totally. In the decades that some of these leaders have been around you would think that they would come up with a new idea, new leaders who were not their children, or even just a new political weapon to train on Modi. This has not happened. And every time they gather, it reminds voters, as recent polls indicate, that for the moment Modi remains taller than the whole lot of them together.

On Mr. Adani I have only this to say. Instead of blaming George Soros every time a story appears in the western media about his dramatically rapid climb to the pinnacle of great wealth, he would do better to respond to the charges calmly and convincingly. In the many years that I have written a political column I have not met a single major political leader who did not get to the top with a little help from rich friends. As for this becoming an important issue in the coming general election may I remind Rahul Gandhi that he has tried to prove that Modi is corrupt and a thief in not one but two general elections. It did not help the Congress Party. So, holding a press conference to demand that the Prime Minister own up to his friendship with Adani served only to distract from the I.N.D.I.A. conclave.

What distracted from this conclave most was that it had just got underway when the Modi government announced a special session of Parliament. It is just ‘headline management’ some said, ‘Modi is scared,’ said others. He is worried that we have come together for the third time, some said with a smirk, because he knows that we are going to defeat him. Then when rumours started about this session being one in which a bill would be introduced to bring ‘one nation, one election’, there was a real furor on the valid grounds that Modi could not do this without consulting them.

True. And he cannot do it without major changes in the Constitution and many obstacles to cross but in the humble opinion of your ever-humble columnist, it is an idea worth thinking about. Not in an unserious sloganeering ‘one India, one election’ way but clearly, consultatively, and seriously. Personally, I believe that this business of holding major state elections every year has turned India into a country that seems to remain in election season endlessly. Political leaders who should be concentrating on governance are dragged away from their real work to election rallies where they make the same boring, old speeches that they made in the last election and the one before.

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Technically, campaign funds are supposed to come from political parties but when the Prime Minister or an important cabinet minister goes campaigning it is taxpayers’ money that is spent on transport and security. Money that could be so much better spent on, for instance, creating real schools for Indian children. The average government school remains a place where children would be lucky if they learned anything at all. When they leave school without an education desperate parents pack them off to coaching centres where they are put under such enormous pressure that the rate of suicides among coaching centre students has become alarming.

Let us return then to the conclave of Modi’s opponents in Mumbai and ask why in the decade that they have spent in opposition they have not come up with new ideas on education, on healthcare or anything else? They charge Modi with having done nothing but spout false slogans before impressionable voters, but he must have done something right to remain the most popular leader in India. What have his opponents done to puncture some of that popularity? What new models of governance and probity in public life have they come up with?

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They say that inflation and unemployment will be the biggest issues in the next general election but have any of them come up with ideas on how they would deal with these problems? Handing out pocket money to women, as is happening now in Karnataka, is not an answer to India’s economic problems. It is dole and dole has always failed to end extreme poverty.

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