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Why Rice at Rs 2 is an election Issue


Elections, the ultimate expression in a democracy, fascinate me, as it should anybody. Indian elections, with her myriad colours, mosaic features and medley of activities, makes me feel breathless. And within elections in India, elections in TN are my favourite. Readers may note that despite my being a Tamilian, such an assessment is strictly professional and not emotional. No wonder that when RP, the Psephologist guru of India, called me to tour along with him to interior TN, I was mightily thrilled. After all it would provide an opportunity to get a first hand account of the state of affairs in TN.

“So what are the main economic issues this election,” RP enquired as soon as we were seated in the car as we left airport in Chennai towards our visit to the interior parts of TN. “I am no expert like you,” I confessed, but added tongue in cheek “unlike you I can’t foresee landslides.” RP seemed to ignore my comment. After all, last elections in TN RP’s outfit failed miserably in predicting the outcome. This time around he wanted to be more circumspect in his forecast. That explains why RP was in TN personally. “ What are the dominant pre poll promises Narada?” he asked me, businesslike. “This is an election of high rhetoric” I replied rather curtly. “Don’t be quixotic Narada,” said RP with an irritated tone, “I want your inputs and facts, not your silly opinion.” Thanks to his chiding I immediately turned erudite. I put in a complicated analogy, “See you guys from North cannot understand the economic thinking of Dravidian parties. The difference in their economic thinking is similar to the differences in the foreign policy of Republican and Democratic party in US.” I do not know what it meant, but RP seemed to get it totally awry. “You mean Condoleezza Rice is the issue in TN” he quipped in a surprised tone. RP seemed to have mixed up ordinary rice and foreign policy advisor of US President. Obviously I had goofed up. I instantly changed tack and explained in simpler terms.

“No it is something like this,” I said trying to retrieve the situation, “it is free rice versus highly subsidized rice in these elections.” RP was pensive for a minute and said “If in a state like yours, which is admittedly one of the more advanced states of the Union, such issues are dominant electoral issues, one can fairly estimate the level of poverty prevailing in the state.” “All these are empty promises RP and everybody knows it,” I added. “I agree Narada that these may be empty electoral promises, but I look at it differently. People are voting for such schemes because they genuinely yearn for it. Politicians may not fulfil their promises but do not underestimate their ability to understand the needs of the masses. All these are clear indicators of the extent of poverty, especially in rural areas. Invariably there is widespread malnutrition in India with significant sections of our population living in sub-Saharan conditions. I hope Narada you would have noticed media reports of high malnutrition in Thane, a suburb of Mumbai. With very low employment opportunities it is no wonder that such promises are top draw.” This analysis stumped me. I always thought that the scourge of famine and malnutrition was well behind us, at-least in TN. “I always assumed that TN was a beneficiary of the reforms process and poverty in TN was significantly lower than the rest of the country,” I quipped. RP elaborated, “If providing rice – subsidized or free - is the dominant electoral issue in TN, it clearly points out that reforms are yet to reach out to the people, especially in improving their overall standard of living.” Despite his failure last time, I understood the genius of RP in interpreting political and economic winds. Nevertheless doubts remained. Was RP right in his interpretation? Is there significant poverty in TN? Why is there so much of competitive populism in our elections? Why is that our electorate silently welcoming such populism? Anybody can clarify.

Last modified on Friday, 19 July 2013 17:31