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(18): Indian Election: The Lessons Nigerians Should Learn

Muhammad Muhsin Ibrahim

As Nigerians, we don’t have to go to a far place like India to learn anything in politics, for two reasons. First, we get a model to learn from right below our noses. I am talking about the Niger Republic, yes, our poor, neighbour Niger. In their last general election of 2011, not a single soul was lost as a result of violence, and everything went on efficiently until the end. Second, India is, independence-wise, older, and, democracy-wise, much older than Nigeria. While our democratic government had been interrupted by several military coups after our independence on 1st October 1960, theirs is never halted since 1947, when the country got independence from the same British colonial brutes that ruled us. But being here, I can’t help but to appreciate and commend their comportment and confederacy during and after the just concluded general elections.

India is famously the world’s biggest democracy with nearly a billion eligible voters, though the turnout was 60-70% as in the Western democracies. Due to its staggering number of voters, the election was conducted in seven phases, in six weeks. The voting public of each state goes to the poll during these weeks. It’s finally over now, and the result was announced on Friday, 16th of May, 2014. The leading opposition, pan-Hindu party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won by a landslide margin. The party’s highly controversial leader and a staunch Hindu nationalist, Narendra Modi became the country’s prime minister (designated, to be sworn-in on May, 26). His election has broken the decades' rule by the secular, dynasty-run Indian National Congress party.

Below are a few of the numerous lessons worth learning for my country (as well as other countries) and its people.

The Candidates
They are three, just three. The first and the foremost is Narendra Modi under BJP. The 63-year-old Modi was the Chief Minister (more or less like a Governor of a state in Nigeria) of Gujarat state for twelve years. The state witnessed an unprecedented anti-Muslim riot in 2002, a few weeks after Modi’s election that ended with not less than 2000 casualties, mostly the Muslims minority. He’s since been criticised for not doing anything to protect their lives and marginalising them afterwards. Besides this, the state’s infrastructures and economy have rapidly developed and everyone associates that to the pro-technology leadership of Modi.

The second is Rahul Gandhi, the 43-year-old scion of the famous, ‘born-to-rule’ Nehru-Gandhi family, under the Congress party. The junior Gandhi is adjudged by many to be too young and inexperienced to handle a billion+ population of India with its diverse cultures, poles-apart religions and creeds. The third is Arvind Kejriwal, an atheist, polemic and self-called anti-corruption contender. His party, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) or Common Man Party was newly born in 2012. He was the Chief Minister of Delhi for 49 days only and resigned, citing the government’s negligence to tackle corruption as his reason. The latter two contenders lost by a large margin.

The Election Day
On the day the electorates went to poll in Punjab, my state of residence, I waited rather eagerly to hear the usual noises that characterize elections in Nigeria. A long time passed, but nothing could be heard. I was curious, therefore contacted my Indian friends, and asked when are they going to vote? Some nonchalantly said later, others said they were already at the election centres. But when I went out to see it myself, one would think nothing was going on. Although, as it is the rule, people have to close down businesses, many defied that and were going on with their shops and other petty stalls. I visited one election centre nearby, I saw everything, I mean everything, going on smoothly; queued people were casting their votes one after another and silently leaving the centre. I observed that with keen interest, wished the same could happen in my country and left.

It is disheartening reading and hearing about clashes between parties’ supporters in my home-state, Kano, Nigeria during the political rallies for the just concluded local government (LG) elections, which reportedly caused the death of at least five (5) people and many injured. The same occurred during the election is a few places. India is far more volatile and prone to clashes that could lead to the loss of hundreds or thousands of lives. Yet nothing like that happened. Although there were a few reports of violence in a few places, that was not between parties supporters. They were attacks by ‘separatists’ or terrorists called Maoists.

Free, Fair and Credible Election
India uses a parliamentary system of government. There are, thus, tens of parties across the country. The above three contestants could only form a government through an alliance with other ‘small’ parties. My point for this short intro is that: each of those local parties has won one or more seats in the Upper or Lower House of the Parliament. Could this happen in Nigeria? No. It is the custom that the ruling party always gets everything or at least 80-90% of the total votes. We have a quick example to cite here. The ruling party of All Progressive Congress (APC) won all the 44 LG polls—44 chairmanships and 484 councillors seats in the aforesaid Kano LG election. Incredible! However, it would have been a similar or the same result had the opposition party in the state, People Democratic Party (PDP), been in the power. A free, fair and credible election, my foot.

Conceding Defeat
It took only a few hours after starting the count of the votes before the incumbent party, the Indian National Congress, accepted defeat and made it known to the world. The most intriguing part of this valorous act is the way it was delivered.  Sonia Gandhi, the leader of the party and mother to its contestant, Rahul Gandhi, and him, stood together before the world press and delivered it, and further wished the new government well. Hmmm. I think, not think, I know with a degree of certainty that the same cannot happen in Nigeria. Supposed the PDP was defeated in the oncoming 2015 general election, it is darned far-fetched to expect the President Goodluck Jonathan together with his wife, Patience, the Vice President Namadi Sambo or the party’s leader, Ahmad Mu’azu, to do the same.

All said, I am hopeful that someday we will witness the same or even a better, progress in Nigeria. But that will not just come to our ways; we have to strive for it. Salvation is attained, not only yearned. We ought to wake up from our slumber. Those politicians are not worth following blindly, nor dying for. We need to honour and value our humanness and use our God-given sense and intelligence. We should say no to politics of violence, agitation, impunity, rigging, ballot-stuffing, extortion and the likes. What peace avails us, violence can never grant us. Come 2015, we shall see free, fair and credible election. Then, God Willing, Nigeria is a Boko Haram-free country.

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