In a few weeks from now, the nation will go to the polls to elect the 16th Lok Sabha. Elections to the legislative assemblies of Sikkim, Odisha and the soon-to- be-bifurcated state of Andhra Pradesh will also be held simultaneously. There is little doubt that the 2014 elections will qualitatively be different from the preceding elections. The electoral landscape has undergone far-reaching changes over the last few years, and the pace of change appears to be accelerating.
In the first place, a vigilant and assertive civil society has succeeded in securing the right to be consulted in the formation of public policy and legislation. The political establishment no longer has the prerogative to frame in splendid isolation policies and laws impinging on the life of the common man. They are wary of disregarding the public opinion as articulated by formal and informal civil society organizations. This recognition is beginning to have a perceptible impact on the election manifestoes of political parties, which now talk of core governance issues such as police reforms and judicial reforms. Celebrities from the world of arts and letters have come forward to lend their support to the civil society campaign to cleanse the Augean stables of electoral politics.
Secondly, the electorate has shaken off its lethargy as evidenced by the last round of state elections, when the newly enfranchised youth and the urban middle class, which had traditionally kept aloof from the hurly-burly of politics, turned up in large numbers to exercise their franchise. There are welcome indications that the tried and tested strategies of accentuating the active and the latent fault lines in society and exploiting the insecurities of various minorities for electoral gains have lost much of their efficacy. The electorate is much better informed today, thanks to the continuing information explosion and a tightening of the disclosure norms for candidates. The rampaging epidemic of paid news has been checked by the potent antibiotic of public exposure and its purveyors and vectors are on their guard. Responsible sections of the media have shown an inclination to join the offensive to counter the pernicious influence of paid news on electoral outcomes.