11th June, 2014
By Samuel Akpobome Orovwuje
India, the world’s most populous country gained its flag independence from her imperial majesty of Great Britain in 1947 and Nigeria in 1960 respectively. The colonial legacy of the divide and rule politics that has characterised Nigeria’s elections also took root in India, often giving rise to conservative leaders, which appears populist in outlook, but far from realities of the majority of Indians who live on less than one dollar a day. This year’s parliamentary elections are indeed remarkable and unique in many ways and indeed deep source of inspiration to nations in search of democratic practices and ideals.
The final phase of the nine days protracted, historic and inspiring Indian elections may have come and gone, the lessons from the elections are instructive and germane particularly for Nigeria, INEC in the conduct of 2015 general elections. In my view, one of the greatest imports from the India elections is total commitment to a powerful fusion of religion and patriotism which has mobilised huge number of people to vote for change.
Crucially, India has indeed demonstrated that she is a nation where, more than anything else, democracy rules. It is instructive to note also that India with a population of over 1.3 billion people has shown the way for us in Nigeria that western democratic principles and values can be respected and sustained by the people irrespective of their ethnic, religious, cultural affinity and bias. This year’s election in India is also a deep reflection of a nation that believes in the principle of the rule of law and the institutions of the state that are charged with the conduct of elections and above all, in the sanctity of the ballot box and the inviolability of the human persons in electing a credible leader who may not be popular with existing political structure of godfathers that has characterised the recruitment to public office and service in Nigeria.
For several weeks, issue-based politics was canvassed, rallied, and the social media was also awash with critical debates particularly for a new party – Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist, whose campaign was hinged on the promise of western growth without imperilling the nation’s rich culture and indeed a pledge to end false secularism which has favoured over 150 million Muslims. Furthermore, BJP throughout the campaign offered the people of India from all sides of the political divide governance that will play by highest global standards while respecting the cultural identity. Interestingly another crucial lesson is the transparent manner in which over half a billion voters cast their ballots in 930,000 polling stations and in addition 1.4 million electronic voting machines across the 35 states of India was managed by the India electoral body. Indeed it is a clear manifestation of a democracy at work. Therefore, INEC must learn from the logistics and management acumen of India to deliver exceptional elections in 2015.
It is also instructive to note the ability of BJP opposition of Narendra Modi, a political upstart and relatively unknown outsider from the mainstream of India politics that has been under the control of the Gandhi dynasty and their conservative allies to pull off such a stunning victory. The BJP was able to oust the incumbent conservative centre-left Congress party that has been in power in the last ten years. On the other hand, the majority of Indian electorate were tired of massive corruption scandals and faltering economic growth that has made them poorer. Admittedly, Modi’s revolutionary performance as chief minister (governor) in the state of Gujarat particularly in the area of agriculture and massive infrastructural development stood him above other contestants. Going forward therefore Nigerian voters must look at performance indicators of political office holders particularly at the national level.
Our political elite and power mongers should also draw inspiration from the peaceful conduct of the India parliamentary elections, particularly on the maturity and the spirit of sportsmanship that was displayed by contestants. We must learn as a people to play by rule with a view to deepening democratic values and culture. Interestingly, the courts in India are not overwhelmed by election cases and that in itself is the real hallmark of political engineering. The APC as a leading opposition party must learn critical lessons from the BJP in India on how to create and highlight alternative campaign strategies and broad-based issues and other people oriented benchmarks and successes to explore commonalities, build consensus with a view to seeking transformation for a new Nigeria. On the hand, PDP like the Congress Party of India must be sensitive to issues of insecurity, national interest, corruption, cheap political arrogance of winner-takes-all mentality and the grandstanding that has characterised its leadership at the centre since 1999. In addition, the political parties and indeed their leadership should not take actions that will plunge the country into violence in the years to come. Furthermore, internal democracy within the parties and the process in the decision for the emergence of popular candidates from the party structure must be respected. The true emergency of candidates would nurture authentic representation from the people which in turn ensures that the parties produce better policies and political programmes that would guarantee a credible result at the polls, which India has demonstrated in the foregone general elections.
While India celebrates this unprecedented triumph in democracy and its breakthrough in massive development in ICT and medical tourism in the last 30 years or so, the challenge before the new cabinet of Modi is that the majority of Indians are poor. Therefore, the task ahead is creating wealth and jobs that would accelerate India’s progress and development for its large population that are looking for greener pasture abroad.
Fundamentally, Nigeria must choose the path of sustainable democracy and peace through credible elections in 2015. Indeed India has shown the way and Nigeria should follow!
•Orovwuje is founder, Humanitarian Care for Displaced Persons, Lagos.