Anti-Incumbency Factor

I was smiling to myself when some Indian news websites recently talked about the anti-incumbency factor in the central elections coming up next year.

We talk about anti-incumbency when the party in power has been complacent or not doing anything useful or great for a while, and then suddenly gearing up for the elections.

We talk about anti-incumbency when people are sort of tired with the existing government and want to have a change.

We do not just talk about anti-incumbency factor when the government on the whole has not performed for a long while. We would wonder why there was no other democratic means to ensure that the government changed its lackadaisical behaviour and improve its economic performance.

But then, we are talking about India here and there is no performance management system in vogue for the government or its ministers.

The only claim to fame is that the Indian democracy is the largest in the world, and has seen continuous sustenance over more than six decades save for a couple of years.

Of course, the achievement of democracy in India is highly laudable, and it is the only system of governance which would have seen the country through the past many years of turmoil. A dictatorship would not have worked out in the Indian context. Any other form of government is unthinkable.

However, that sustenance of a peaceful form of democracy is no excuse for non-performance, sustained corruption, high level of illiteracy, inability to handle natural disasters, and sheer incompetence enhanced by a series of scandals.

While all parties and governments in India have been afflicted in the past by such lack of performance and other factors mentioned above, the past 5 years have been the worst ever. We can try to gloss over the facts and figures, no issue with that. But that does not and should not stop one from analyzing the problems and challenges faced by Indian democracy and learning from the same.

It is critical that all parties (all of them are in the same league) derive serious lessons from what has happened. The Indian economy has been hit seriously because of many issues, the biggest being the fiscal deficit incurred by the Central Government. Unemployment is rising, and India will be vigorously challenged by the rising youth power to find jobs for the educated and for the rural poor.

Problems are huge, and I surely acknowledge that no party or government is going to be able to fix all the issues even if they have the majority mandate in the Parliamentary elections.

The conclusion is that we cannot simply attribute the party’s loss to anti-incumbency factor alone, if the main party in the Central Government loses the elections. While it is entirely possible, the result may not be palatable, as India would then land it another coalition government which would be at the mercy of the parochial regional parties.

So the mess is expected to continue.


Vijay Srinivasan
28th July 2013


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