Sunday, February 27, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


S P E CI A L   E D I T O R I A L

Voters want performance
by Hari Jaisingh

MANDATE-2000 in Haryana, Orissa, Bihar and Manipur has broadly been on expected lines, with a few bitter-sweet surprises here and there. Certain pointers are clear and educative. One, the BJP has not done so well as its leaders had thought it would. Its performance in Haryana, Bihar and Orissa exposes the party’s lack of cohesiveness both in thinking and working. The poor quality of candidates, bickerings and the absence of clarity have taken away the BJP’s earlier shine as a disciplined outfit.

Two, the Congress may have improved its tally in Haryana, but in Orissa it has been rejected by the people in favour of the BJD-BJP alliance led by the youthful leader, Mr Naveen Patnaik. The voters appear to have had their revenge on the Congress for the pusillanimous way it handled the cyclone tragedy. Indeed, politics will never be the same again in Orissa.

Three, Mr Laloo Prasad Yadav and his RJD are still a force to be reckoned with in Bihar. As it is, instability might lead to the politics of competitive negativism. Poor people! They have suffered enough at the hands of unscrupulous politicians. A new phase of uncertainty will only add to their woes.

Four, Manipur practises its own brand of politics which deserves a closer study at the national level.

Five, the success of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) in Punjab’s prestigious Nawanshahr Assembly byelection is highly significant if seen against the backdrop of the “good show” put up by the Congress in the last parliamentary poll. A stronghold of the Congress, Mr Parkash Singh Badal’s party has regained the seat after a gap of more than 20 years. This should provide the Chief Minister the much-needed boost to improve his performance. Notwithstanding his many failures, the people still consider Mr Badal to be the best bet for the state. It is now for him to live up to their expectations.

As for the historic verdict in Haryana, the people have voted decisively in favour of Mr Om Prakash Chautala’s INLD. Getting an absolute majority in the Assembly of 90 is surely creditable. It is, however, not a “vote for performance” as the jubilant Chief Minister claims. The verdict is actually based on the electorate’s expectations for a credible performance. For years, the state’s politico-administrative machinery has been malfunctioning because of wrong policies, misplaced promises and corrupt practices. Mr Chautala has undoubtedly been trying to project a new image of himself. This must have helped him to swell his vote share. However, keeping in view his innumerable problems, his real test will only begin now. He will have to provide quick answers to several questions.

First, what will be his new equation with the alliance partner, the BJP, which has fared badly at the hustings?

Second, how will he accommodate the successful partymen and Independents? We know how erratically they behave if not handled properly in the spoils system. We are also familiar with Haryana’s Aya Ram, Gaya Ram syndrome, and hence the ever present fear of the unknown.

Third, will the opium of power get into Mr Chautala’s head? Will he keep his cool and address himself to the basic problems facing the state?

Fourth, will he keep his sons and other overenthusiastic relations under check? He should learn a lesson or two from the fate of Mr Bansi Lal’s Haryana Vikas Party and the humiliating defeat of his son, Mr Surender Singh, in his home district of Bhiwani.

It is up to Mr Chautala to carve out a new role for himself. Haryana’s problems are numerous. The question of financial bankruptcy apart, the state’s infrastructure is crying for urgent attention. The power situation continues to be bad. Roads are full of potholes. Rural development demands a fresh impetus. Uneven urban growth, too, has thrown up new problems.

Haryana was once known as India’s model state in speedy development. Will Mr Chautala revive the state’s economy? He can, provided he takes the people’s verdict in humility and allows the administrative machinery to work freely and fearlessly. The people want speedy development. In this onerous task, he has to perform with total transparency and accountability. Is it a tall order? Certainly not. The meaning of the people’s verdict is clear and categorical. It is up to Mr Chautala whether he wants to go down in history as a performer or a non-performer.

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