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Lessons from Punjab - The Economic Times

Editorial ()
11 February 1997

Title : Lessons from Punjab
Author : Editorial
Publication : The Economic Times
Date : February 11, 1997

The election results from Punjab puncture a few myths and reinforce
democracy. The turnout of 65-70 per cent shows that these elections
were a genuine exercise in democracy. Ironically, it also
vindicates the Congress claim that they had, indeed, restored
normalcy to the state. Things had become so normal that who
brought it about ceased to matter the Congress could not get votes
merely on the strength of this past achievement. The performance of
the government matters, crucially. On this count, obviously,
Congress governments under three chief ministers failed to live up
to expectations. Corruption, nepotism and incompetence plagued the
government and it paid the price. The high-handed methods employed
by the Congress government and police chief K P S Gill to stamp out
terrorism also probably contributed to the Congress rout.

The chief myth that has been demolished by the Punjab electorate is
the Kesri effect. With the ouster of Mr Narasimha Rao and his
succession by Mr Sitaram Kesri, went the thesis, the Congress
decline had been reversed. The party would fare much better come
election-time, whenever it was. After Punjab, this claim stands
convincingly disproved. Prime Minister Gowda should breathe more
easy. The other myth that has been exposed is the magical effects
of populist promises. Politicians believe that votes can be
purchased with fiscal largesse or promises thereto. Time and
again, voters have demonstrated that they have more self-respect
than what politicians credit them with. This did not deter the
outgoing Punjab chief minister from cobbling together her own
populist package to woo the voters. May other politicians learn the
right lesson from its failure. Yet another myth to go is that only
Mr Seshan can conduct fair elections.

The Punjab results come as a shot in the arm for the BJP, apart
from, of course, for the Akali Dal. Although a minority partner
with the Akali Dal in Punjab, the BJP can be happy to once again
demonstrate to the larger polity that it is not entirely isolated.
However, the fact that the Akalis have a majority on their own and
moreover have not abandoned the brand of sectarian politics in
which competition quickly mutates moderate positions into extreme
ones, the BJP could find its alliance a mixed blessing.

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