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Dance of Indian Democracy: The major national issues of Lok Sabha 2019  Election Campaigns on which India votes

Apart from eliminating corruption, boosting growth of GDP and the Industrial sector and improvement in infrastructure, the political parties across the board are trying to cajole the voters on several issues- some are populist issues, some long protracted ideological and political issues and some socio-economic problems looking into the face of future of emerging Indian society and polity. The voters find it difficult to decide how various issues may figure in their priority to determine their voting decisions. It is helpful to know the prominent issues that are being raised during election campaigns before people make up their minds to vote. However, it is best to leave it on the electorate how do they rank these issues in their voting decisions.

Following are the prominent issues raised by various political parties during 2019 election campaign:

Agrarian Crisis

The recent marches to New Delhi  and Mumbai by thousands of farmers reflect that things are not good with the sector and it doesn’t bode well for rural demand in the coming months. Although agriculture contributes less than one-third of the output of the entire economy, it employs more than 50 percent of the work force which constitutes rural consumption demand, in turn which can boost the sales of manufacturing sector. Consumption demand from the rural economy also needs to hold up for the overall growth rate to remain above 7%. The figures of farmer suicides are troubling and the main reason behind it is, continuously increasing cost of cultivation and low farm gate prices for crops. Government has promised doubling the farm income by 2022, but it is stupendous task.

Poverty

From any yardstick, poverty ratio is still very high, which prevents unleashing of vast potential of human capital in India, despite a continuous fall in it due to direct measures taken to eliminate poverty since 1970s (poverty has been more than halved). As per the methodology of the Suresh Tendulkar Committee report, the population below the poverty line in India in 2009-2010 was 354 million (29.6% of the population) and that in 2011-2012 was 269 million (21.9% of the population). The Rangarajan Committee said in 2014 that the population below the poverty line in 2009-2010 was 454 million (38.2% of the population) and that in 2011-2012 was 363 million (29.5% of the population). Deutsche Bank Research estimated that there are nearly 300 million people who are middle class. If former trends continue, India’s share of world GDP will significantly increase from 7.3% in 2016 to 8.5% by 2020. In 2015, around 170 million people, or 12.4%, lived in poverty (defined as $1.90 (Rs 123.5)), a reduction from 29.8% in 2009.

Unemployment

According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) report,” The unemployment rate in India rose to 7.2 percent in February 2019, the highest since September 2016, and up from 5.9 percent in February 2018, And, according to CMIE, nearly 11 million people lost jobs in 2018 after the demonetisation of high value notes in late 2016 and the chaotic launch of a new goods and services tax in 2017, hit millions of small businesses.

Health

According to the National Health Profile, 2018, released by union minister for health and family welfare, JP Nadda, on 19 June, 22018 at 1.02 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP)–a figure which remained almost unchanged in nine years since 2009–India’s public health expenditure is amongst the lowest in the world, lower than most low-income countries which spend 1.4 percent of their GDP on healthcare. The equivalent proportion of GDP spent on healthcare in the Maldives is 9.4 percent, in Sri Lanka 1.6 percent, in Bhutan 2.5 percent and in Thailand 2.9 percent. The National Health Profile covers information on demographic, socio-economic, health status and health finance indicators, and on health infrastructure and human resources. The amount India spends on public health per capita every year is Rs 1,112, less than the cost of a single consultation at the country’s top private hospitals. The National Health Policy 2017 talked about increasing public-health spending to 2.5 percent of GDP by 2025, but India hasn’t yet met the 2010 target of two percent of GDP, IndiaSpend reported in April 2017. India’s low public-health spending is one reason why patients turn to the private sector for healthcare. Indians are the sixth biggest out-of-pocket (OOP) health spenders in the low-middle income group of 50 nations, IndiaSpend reported in May 2017. These costs push around 32-39 million Indians below the poverty line every year, according to various studies.

Without a significant increase in its healthcare budget, India’s health targets seem difficult to achieve: Reducing the infant mortality rate from 41 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2015-16 to 28 by 2019 and maternal mortality ratio from 167 deaths per 100,000 births in 2013-14 to 100 by 2018-2020 and eliminating tuberculosis by 2025.

Education

Education is considered to be a fundamental human right. As per Teach for India statistics, “4 percent of our children never start school. 58 percent don’t complete primary schools. And 90 percent don’t complete school”. These numbers are shocking from almost any standpoint. The Indian Government passed the Right to Education Legislation in 2009 at a time when close to 8 million children were out of school. For those who do attend school, the problems are no less. Lack of disabled friendly schools, clean and adequate drinking water, separate toilets for girls and boys and playgrounds, lack of smart classrooms that can provide interactive and high quality learning at a level playing field across the country. Access to quality teachers is not a problem localized to rural areas only. Even in urban areas the poor quality of teachers has given rise to the coaching industry. There is a massive deficit of access to high-quality education both at the primary & high school level. The cost of educating one of the world’s greatest populations has been increasing at a steady pace. The biggest gap is the impact on quality of learning outcomes. Even after the massive effort put in by students, parents and teachers the pass rate and improvement in performance of students are at an all time low. For instance, 38.07 percent of 8th standard students could not count numbers from 1 to 99 in Maharashtra as per a recent survey.

Social justice

Regional parties like the SP, BSP and RJD harp on the issue of reservation to protect it as it is given in the Indian constitution. The BJP has offered a bill to give reservation to economically weaker sections at the fag end of its tenure. Senior Congress leader and former Minister of Social Justice Kumari Selja is critical of the Constitutional Amendment Bill brought by the Centre to ensure reservation for economically weaker forward castes in jobs and in educational institutions. She said while people belonging to the SC, ST and OBC communities do not have reservation in private and self-financing higher education institutions, the new Bill has kept quota for the poor in such institutions.

Uniform Civil code

Uniform civil code is the ongoing point of debate within Indian mandate to replace personal laws based on the scriptures and customs of each major religious community in India with a common set of rules governing every citizen. Article 44 of the Directive Principles expects the state to apply these while formulating policies for the country. Apart from being an important issue regarding secularism in India & fundamental right to practice religion contained in Article 25, it became one of the most controversial topics in contemporary politics during the Shah Bano case in 1985. Although Article 44 of the Indian Constitution guarantees UCC to all citizens,the debate arose when the question of making certain laws applicable to all citizens without abridging the fundamental right of right to practice religious functions. The debate then focused on the Muslim Personal Law, which is partially based on the Sharia law and remains unreformed since 1937, permitting unilateral divorce, polygamy in the country and putting it among the nations legally applying the Sharia law. The Bano case made it a politicised public issue focused on identity politics—by means of attacking specific religious minorities versus protecting its cultural identity.Personal laws are distinguished from public law and cover marriage, divorce, inheritance, adoption and maintenance.

Article 370

BJP chief Amit Shah is saying in election campaign that  BJP will scrap Article 370 of the Constitution which grants special status to Jammu and Kashmir and introduce National Register for Citizens across the country if voted to power again. “It is our commitment to bring in NRC across the country to chuck out each and every infiltrator.” Hours after BJP, in its election manifesto, promised to scrap Article 35A and Article 370 if it comes to power, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and National Conference warned that such a move will pave way for ‘Azadi’ (freedom) of Jammu and Kashmir). Reacting sharply to the BJP’s promise to revoke Article 370, NC president and former union minister Farooq Abdullah said, “Do they (New Delhi) think that they will abrogate Article 370 and we will be quiet? They are wrong. We will fight against it.” In line with the sentiments in the valley for article 35A, J&K PCC chief GA Mir said any tinkering with the special the special status of J&K would further alienate the people and asked BJP not to “even think about touching it”  as the consequences would be “disastrous”. He said in a statement that special status granted to J&K is a settled issue an and “any misadventure with regard to Article 35A would further deepen the alienation among the people, the fire of which will engulf the entire J&K state”.

Terrorism

Milan Vaishnav, the director of the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, noted that the the Pulwama crisis offers Modi an opportunity to show strength on the world stage. “With general elections just weeks away, the conflict gives Modi and the [Bharatiya Janata Party] a clear advantage.” According to him “Modi’s calling card is projecting strength, decisive leadership, and nationalism. This crisis allows him to tap into all three.” Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington, Asad Majeed Khan, meanwhile, told a group of reporters Feb. 27 in Washington that Modi’s government is “using this incident to draw political mileage at home.” The same charge is being leveled on the ruling government by the opposition parties. The opposition parties, especially the Congress Party opines that India saw big wars in 1965 and 1971 and under the leadership of the Congress Party, it decisively won the wars. Whatever followed after it was skirmishes and not wars! Many people believe that for winning election, the armed forces should not be dragged into politics.

Competitive Patriotism

The two big political parties are trying to prove that they are more patriotic than the other to take advantage in the lok sabha election. This is competitive patriotism. Some right wing leaders doubt the patriotism of the Muslims while the centrist parties are blamed to indulge in pseudo secularism to create a vote bank among the Muslims. The human resource Ministry gave an advisory (September 2018) to the vice Chancellors of all Indian universities to commemorate September 29 as surgical strike day. HRD minister Prakash Javadekar  said,      “This is not politics but patriotism. Students needed to informed about the surgical strikes, and what military and and civil works soldiers do. The ministry issued a programme only on the basis of suggestions received from teachers and and many students.”
On March 01, 2019 two days after India’s air strikes on a terrorist camp in Balakot in Pakistan, district magistrates across Madhya Pradesh received a letter from the state culture department asking them to organise functions to commemorate the sacrifice and valour of the soldiers who died in the Pulwama attack. To many of the officials, it was clear where this was coming from. Having been at the receiving end of sharp attacks by the BJP for questioning the cross-border surgical strike in 2016, the Congress had this time changed its strategy in a bid to deny the BJP any gains from nationalistic muscle-flexing in the run-up to the Lok Sabha election. On March 4, a programme called Bhartiyam’ was organised across MP’s district headquarters. Held under the aegis of the culture department, it was old-style Congress nationalism on display, with freedom fighters being feted, patriotic songs being sung and war veterans being sent invites for the shows. Optics-wise, it was no match for the high-decibel campaign launched by the BJP post-Balakot nor was there much footfall, given the sarkari nature of the programme. But it was evident that the Congress was making a conscious effort to strike a nationalistic chord.

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