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Thursday, October 7, 1999 Published at 11:41 GMT 12:41 UK


World: South Asia

Eyewitness: What the voters really want

Off to vote in Amethi, northern India: Local concerns loom large

By Delhi Correspondent Daniel Lak

It is a truism that Indians are proud of being a democracy for all but two of the past 52 years of independence.

Indian Elections 99
Full results
In recent years, democracy has become an outlet for the voters' anger. Famously, they threw Indira Gandhi out of office in 1977 after she tried to suspend their beloved democracy. Then her successor suffered the same fate in 1979 when his squabbling coalition government was topped by a former ally.

It all bears an uncanny resemblance to the scene today.


Daniel Lak: "This is the most fractured Indian election result of modern times"
All around the country, I heard the same thing. "What have they done for me? The roads are bad, there are no schools and my children get sick from drinking the water", a dalit - or "untouchable" - man in Tamil Nadu told me.

"They get richer, I get poorer, and my children don't get an education."

Corruption, the great bugbear of the urban middle classes, does not raise hackles in the countryside.

The consensus is that money can be skimmed off, so long as MPs keep their constituencies happy.

'The voter is angry'

A Bihar weaver, uneducated, illiterate but very savvy, said his local MP had not been seen in the seat since the last election.

"Now he's begging for my vote, and what has he done? He hasn't moved a single job here, or helped any of us get a place in school or a hospital."


[ image: Waiting for kerosene in Calcutta: People want basic needs addressed]
Waiting for kerosene in Calcutta: People want basic needs addressed
A neighbouring MP who was consistently re-elected with India's largest majority, 500,000 over his nearest opponent, was much admired.

"As railways minister two years ago," my weaver acquaintance said, "he brought half the ministry to his constituency, and handed out thousands of free passes. That's democracy."

Well, yes, perhaps it is in a country where even the officially-sanctioned development budgets for constituencies are underspent by more than half.

What is clear after this election is that the voter is angry.

Not angry enough to throw out a government, perhaps, but ready to ignore the appeal by both major national parties, the BJP and Congress, to put regional differences aside and vote for national unity and stability.

In this election, India became a federation - not of its 26 states, but of thousands, perhaps millions, of local concerns and communities that want their diverse problems addressed. Not tomorrow. Not today. But yesterday. Sooner if possible. Let's see if the politicians are up to it.



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