People are seeking an alternative
Himachal Pradesh goes to the polls on November 4, 2012. On the surface, the contest is between the two main parties of the bourgeoisie, the Congress and the BJP. With well- oiled election machineries, money power, and the backing of the monopoly media, and promises aplenty to woo sections of the electorate, both these parties are pulling all stops. Both these parties are looking at Himachal Pradesh elections as a stepping stone to the General Elections to the Lok Sabha. Both these parties are carrying on a no holds barred campaign to prove that the rival party leadership at the state and central level is more corrupt then themselves.
There is widespread disgust amongst the people at the complete venality and shamelessness of these two parties, who have between them alternatively ruled Himachal Pradesh for several decades. It is increasingly understood by people that whichever of these parties comes to power, the agenda that will be implemented will be one and the same. This is the agenda of privatisation, of selling out the land, rivers, forests, and other natural resources of the state to various capitalist houses to exploit to the maximum, and in the process, enriching the ministers and their hangers-on. Just as they made huge monies in the past in land deals, in kickbacks in the hydel projects, in the cement scams, in the setting up of numerous private educational institutions and super speciality hospitals, and in looting the treasury, they will continue to do so. Whichever of these parties is forced to sit in the "opposition" benches will scream about corruption and kickbacks over the next five years, only so as to itself get a chance at loot and plunder.
Below the surface, people are looking for an alternative. What is needed is not merely a new party or coalition to replace the Congress or BJP, but a way by which people can ensure that those elected to power are accountable to them. People want to be able to select and elect candidates from amongst their midst, hold them to account, be able to propose legislations, and have the power to recall their representatives if they are found unworthy. In other words people want to be the decision makers, the rulers.
A large number of issues are agitating the people of this state. Unemployment amongst the youth is a major issue. The scale of this problem can be gauged from the outlandish and cynical promises made by the Congress and BJP. The BJP, which has ruled for the past 5 years, has promised to create 10 lakh jobs over the next 5 years! The Congress has promised 1 lakh job every year. According to reports, the ruling BJP could generate only 45,000 jobs in the past 5 years! Of course, neither party is forthcoming on which sector they expect will provide these promised jobs. The BJP has promised to implement 80% quota in all industries in the state to the locals. However, neither are there much industries in Himachal Pradesh except in the area adjoining Chandigarh, nor has the present quota of 70% for locals been implemented.
The privatisation of higher technical education, the mushrooming of numerous engineering and medical colleges in the state, the opening of more than 20 new private universities, has led to deterioration of quality of education, high cost, as well as large numbers of educated unemployed. Students from Himachal Pradesh need not now go to other states for higher education. However, this has not addressed the burning issue of lack of jobs, as most of the jobs still remain in the government sector.
The issue of large scale displacement of people as a result of past and ongoing power projects agitates people in the affected areas. A large number of big and small hydro electric power projects are in different stages of construction. Most of these are either being done by private capitalists or as PPP projects. The Karcham Wangchoo project is a case in point of a large project which has been completed over a year ago. It has resulted in large scale displacement, in loss of livelihood for thousands of people of the area. Much of the power generated by the Hydel projects in Himachal is sold to other states, with little benefit to the people of Himachal. On the other hand, many of these projects have led to the building of dams that destroy the long standing natural water irrigation systems that the peasants have been using for centuries.
The terrible condition of the roads in the state, which lead regularly to so many fatal accidents, is another major problem confronting the people. Road construction and repair has been a major way of the party in power and favoured contractors looting the exchequer.
Several new parties and groups have come into the electoral arena. Some of these are regional formations established in the past few months, trying to voice the aspirations of the people of the state. Others are parties like the Trinamul congress, which is seeking to spread out from West Bengal and become a recognised all India party. Given the palpable disgust of the people with the Congress and BJP, all these parties and groups are claiming to be radically different, even though most of them are break-a-ways from these two parties.
The aspirations of the people to have a say in what is affecting their lives is reflected in the emergence of, independent candidates in different assembly constituencies of Himachal; limited in their reach because of the constraints of resources, these candidates are voicing the concerns of the people of their areas, and contesting the elections against heavy odds.
Many organisations working amongst the people have begun to take up the question of empowerment of the people as a central question in these elections. Thus in Kangra district, which sends15 MLA's to the Assembly, political and social activists have come together to form a Jan Adhikar Sangathan, This organisation says it stands for peoples power, for the sovereignty in hands of the people. Amongst other things, it appeals to people to vote only for those candidates who fulfil the following criteria:
- "known tested social activists, who are ready to uproot the present system from its roots in order to establish a new system".
- "those willing to work under the control and supervision of the people, who agree to render periodic accounts of their work, accept that sovereignty vests with people and implement the decisions of the electorate, work to establish mechanisms so that the right to initiate legislation by the people can be realised, and are ready to resign if the electorate so decide in a recall vote.”
- "say no to those who in order to win elections use most despicable means, dividing people on the basis of party, caste, religion, groups, and incite terrorism and hatred amongst people"
- "say no to those parties which are steeped in corruption scandals, which have looted the treasury in the past when they have been in power, and who use money and muscle power to win election"
- "check the credentials of every candidate in sabhas of people of your village/mohalla or ward. Use the right to reject all candidates if no candidate is worthwhile, and strengthen the process of selection of candidates by your sabhas, as well as the possibility of recalling unsuitable candidates."
According to reports, more than one independent candidate has on their own initiative agreed with the appeal and have been popularising it themselves. This promises to be a positive development.