The drought situation in Karnataka barely found a mention in the election campaign
The drought situation in Karnataka barely found a mention in the election campaign | Photo Credit: K BHAGYA PRAKASH

Quite unlike the energy that coursed through the general elections of 2014 and 2019, this has so far been a tepid, ‘waveless’ election. To be sure, it would be inaccurate to say that no worthwhile issues have been raised. Inflation, income redistribution, unemployment and competitive welfarism are the topics of the day, even if the discussion around them has been of uncertain quality. What is also evident is that local concerns have not been highlighted, making it an election that is low on both national and local flavour. Mud-slinging around themes of corruption and identity have overwhelmed relevant concerns — be it water shortage in peninsular India, forest fires in Uttarakhand or education and health.

In Uttarakhand or north Karnataka, which are through with their polling, local issues were largely overlooked. Uttarakhand has seen a tunnel collapse, endless landslides and avalanches and the slow sinking of an entire town as a result of tunnelling for a hydel project. Yet, the discourse revolved largely around the Prime Minister. A debate on the pattern of development should have figured in a State that is constantly dealing with man-made natural calamities. Even the forest fires in the State, being heard by the Supreme Court and a regular occurrence now, were overlooked. Besides stubble burning, what has added fuel to the fire, quite literally, is the proliferation of pine trees (with their inflammable resin) as part of the afforestation drive. There are also reports of government agencies being hand in glove with vested interests to clear forests so that they can be sold as revenue land.

If Uttarakhand lurches from one ‘natural’ crisis to another amidst political indifference, north Karnataka’s water and drought woes too found scant mention in the elections. In the parched regions of Vijaypura and Bagalkot, the personalities of candidates held sway. The endemic drought in north Karnataka and its impact on agriculture-linked work has been taken for granted. Political parties do not seem to have applied themselves to the varied manifestations of climate change. In Maharashtra, local politicians make unrealistic promises on water, while national leaders skim over issues of drought, farming and livelihoods. Their conversations around ‘jobs’ are delinked from the nitty-gritty of creating sustainable livelihoods. The rhetoric of this election has been about ‘guarantees’ without a reference to what the model of development for a particular region should be. Local infrastructure needs have been neglected, amidst promises of grandiose schemes.

The infirmities in our health and education systems have not been raised, except in a superficial way. This is a serious failing of our political process, given that challenges of quality and access loom larger than ever. For a country that was scarred by Covid when our health systems were shown up, such indifference is simply unacceptable. It is for the people to stop this race to the bottom.