India is looking for a strong leader to guarantee its security, by Ajit Ninan

As the world’s largest democracy approaches the end of its month-long electoral drama, local cartoonists offer their take on a wide-open contest.

More than 700 million voters are summoned to the polls in a country rattled by terrorism and the global economic crisis. The results of the mammoth general election will be unveiled on May 16. With the country’s two mega-parties – Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party – both struggling to drum up support, the election’s outcome will no doubt rest on the performances of India’s myriad regional parties. Close to one thousand parties are taking part in this democratic marathon. And with over a quarter of voters aged between 18 and 35, the “youth” factor could well make the difference.

"Security is a key concern, because Asia is heading for a major catastrophe"

Ajit Ninan was born in Hyperabad, in southern India, in 1955. He now lives in New Dehli, where he works for the "The Times of India".

  With both opinion polls and exit polls banned from this election, Congress, BJP, and the Left are all boasting about a great result. The electorate is confused. In this campaign, money is the kingmaker.

Security is a key concern, because Asia is heading for a major catastrophe. There is no sign of a true statesman here, only smooth talkers – wolves clad in sheep's clothing. Our leaders have lost all credibility, and the public is no longer a lump of dumb old onlookers. Even though there is still widespread illiteracy, TV, radio, and movies mean voters are well-informed. In the past, unpopular governments have already been removed. There's a new 'POP' culture in Indian politics - Perform Or Perish."

"The tactics employed by political parties, and all the sleaze, undermine our democracy"

Yathish L. Shettigar, 30, is a cartoonist for the English-speaking daily “Deccan Herald”, published in Bangalore.

As though we didn’t have enough problems, terrorism, recession, and corruption have further undermined the country. A large number of voters are keeping clear of polling stations, neglecting their responsibilities and crippling our democracy. Today, terrorism has spread across the world and India is one of the main victims. The recent Mumbai attacks are still haunting us. All parties talk about the issue of security, but who knows whether they’ll be able to guarantee it? Sixty-two years after independence, most people in rural areas are still deprived of basic infrastructure, including drinking water, roads, and electricity. Farmers commit suicide because they cannot make ends meet. People just pray that the price of staples will decrease once a new government steps in.”

"The official campaign costs - and the real costs"

Vast amounts of money have been splashed on this campaign. The tactics employed by political parties, and all the sleaze, undermine our democracy. The only saving grace in the present scenario is the strict application of rules by a vigilant electoral commission. The election watchdog has worked hard to ensure that the expenditure of each candidate for a parliamentary constituency does not exceed 43,000 euros. Yet despite the commission’s best efforts, candidates have regularly exceeded by up to 10-20 times the prescribed limit. Politicians use money to woo voters. The cartoon explores the role of dirty money and corruption in the election.”

 


Election manifestos are little more than smokescreens, designed in such a way that voters get carried away by promises. In India, putting a hat on someone’s head means ‘to fool, or cheat’. By the time voters realise the trustworthiness of manifestos, it is too late – they have been tricked.”



Ever since the country’s independence, the Congress Party has been under the control of the Nehru-Gandhi family. Sonia Gandhi pulls the strings in the federal government in her capacity as chairwoman of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), a key component of the Congress Party. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is little more than a puppet in the hands of the UPA. Over at the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party), India’s other leading party, the situation is quite similar. The BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Lal Krishna Advani, is originally an activist for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The BJP is the political wing of the RSS, so the two essentially follow the same line. Manmohan Singh and Advani have branded each other as "slaves". This farce is shown in the cartoon."