Synchronized elections are as essential for domestic stability and growth as for foreign policy successes.
New Delhi: As India grows in international power, a streamlining of the electoral process would be in order. Chaotic as democracy is, the endless election cycles confound the situation the more. Hardly has a state election ended leaving opposed camps happy or sad as the case may be than hectic preparations commence for the next big poll. The media may be ecstatic with this interminable election cycle because it prospers their sensationalism but sensible political leaders are deeply distressed although they are loath to publicize their anxieties. Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks for a lot of them when he shows his keenness for synchronized general and assembly elections. With the pressure of frequent elections out of the way, elected governments can settle down to the serious business of governance.
Synchronized elections, naturally, constitute a major step and must follow due diligence and political consensus. In theory, at least, they will largely stabilize the polity for a full term of five years. Stability will hopefully propel growth and development and add to the country’s international weight. When the Modi government attempts to convince the opposition of the benefits of synchronized elections, it must not lose sight of its significance for India’s foreign policy. The more organically stable and productive a country is the faster and sustained its international rise.
This law operates as steely in the case of middle and rising powers like India as it does for Great Powers. Western Europe’s fall from pre-eminence starting from the late 19th century and the rise of the United States concurrently are a direct outcome of America’s geographical isolation at the time and its relative domestic stability and prosperity as opposed to Europe’s unremitting interstate wars and haemorrhaging treasuries. Tucked away, so to speak, in a far corner of the western hemisphere, the United States was happily immune from debilitating balance-of-power calculations and strategies until it assumed the leadership of the world after 1945. Its first great shock in that course was the Vietnam War which was as strategically disastrous as it was immoral. The war divided America as not since the Civil War. It is often forgotten in the fog that Richard Nixon won his second term with a landslide against a candidate who campaigned for unilateral withdrawal and capitulation in Vietnam. But that did not assist the cause of the war.
There is some analysis to the effect that the United States would have escaped the debacle if America should have had more charismatic Presidents than Lyndon Johnson and Nixon in whose terms the war reached its zenith. Presidents John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and Franklin D. Roosevelt might have been vast improvements, but one can always be wiser in hindsight, or at least think so. This writer has a more nuanced view. Domestic stability is sine qua non for an effective foreign policy. In form, Nixon could lay claim to that stability, having won a decisive second term. (And this was before Watergate ruined it all.) But in spirit, that was somehow missing, although the protesters made up only a small minority.
A comparable situation arose for India only once, when domestic politics directly tied to foreign policy. This related to Rajiv Gandhi’s decision to deploy an Indian Peace-Keeping Force in Sri Lanka to prevent the ethnic conflict there from getting out of hand. This writer would not question his intentions for the simple reason that he had no means to ascertain them. But the decision was taken when the Bofors scandal had wrecked his government and destroyed his personal standing. The decision to intervene in a foreign conflict consequently lacked legitimacy even though Rajiv Gandhi was at the head of a single party Central government with the greatest Lok Sabha majority since independence.
To be sure, Nixon’s and Rajiv’s wars are extreme cases of domestic turmoil affecting foreign policy outcomes. Other complications attended these disasters as well, including issues of personal integrity and political objectives failing to define war aims. Nevertheless, they do not detract from the linear connection between domestic stability and foreign policy successes, which have proved the case on many occasions in the past. Domestic stability may be achieved without constraining democracy in any manner. Synchronized elections would considerably detoxify the polity of campaign-driven partisanship between terms. This would assist to rebuild foreign policy consensus which was a redeeming feature of domestic politics prior. Synchronized elections would, in the main, permit the Prime Minister to plan and conduct foreign affairs without distractions and electoral apprehensions for a full term. The advantages of this to gain favourable foreign policy outcomes cannot be overstated.