Fifty shades of corruption

Himachal and Gujarat will reveal how the issue plays out in state elections

Five years ago, the BJP had pulled off convincing wins in both Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. And yet, two years later, a jittery UPA returned to power at the Centre in 2009 with increased numbers — better than the numbers it had given itself, in fact.

Now that the same state polls are upon us again, it is useful to remember that their meaning and influence can be overread. Having said that, the battle in the two states may not be typical of the multiplex dramas that India's political stories have become, in as much as it is mainly bi-polar, but it offers a watchable plot. These elections will test the soundness of the political instincts of the Congress and BJP. They will also show the extent to which a media saturated discourse can influence political choice. The last few months have seen much furore over the coal-block and 2G spectrum allocation, with institutions like the CAG pointing fingers at the government, allegations traded between politicians and liberally aired in the media.

During the monsoon session, the BJP had managed to hold up Parliament by agitating about corruption at the very top — even trying to implicate the prime minister in the irregularities in coal allocations. The BJP might have hoped that the hype around corruption would take down the Congress — as in 1989, for instance, when it was much stronger. Now, with a high-decibel campaign being waged against its own party president, the same hype has come back to haunt the BJP.

These two state elections may help us gauge if Indian voters still separate "local" or state issues and national issues while making electoral choices, and hence vote differently in national and state elections. Perhaps the local and the national have drawn closer now, and it could be that a single mood is reflected in municipal, state and national elections.

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