The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) popularised bijli-sadak-paani as an election issue in 2003 in Madhya Pradesh to devastating effect. The campaign dislodged a wily and efficient Digvijaya Singh from chief ministership. Deploying the lack of infrastructure as an election issue was as ingenious as it was effective. Its success was stunning enough that it merited sustained attention to nurture the rather fragile connect between what the people expect from a government and the way they vote to elect a government. But elections are rarely fought on such critical issues. How would a slogan like bijli-sadak-paani work if it were to be deployed in elections for the coming Lok Sabha? Would the success or failure in the creation of infrastructure at the state level by a political party have an impact upon its performance in the Lok Sabha elections?
For example, would it matter that, in Gujarat, nearly 1% of the households (0.96% to be precise) do not have any source of lighting in their homes? No electricity, no solar power, no kerosene or any other fuel to burn a lamp for just plain light. Other states are not as bad as Gujarat is. Of a total of 35 states and Union territories, only four states are worse than Gujarat in respect of driving darkness out of homes. The number of people living in darkness in Gujarat has increased from 82,653 in 2001 to 1,16,903 in 2011. Even the proportion of households living in darkness has increased from 0.86% to 0.96%. This is twice the proportion for India as a whole, but it is too small a proportion to matter to the larger electorate and therefore the electoral fortunes of political parties.
But how about the 10% of the households that do not have access to electricity. They mostly use kerosene to burn a lamp for light. That is still the dark ages.
Political parties stake a claim for success by demonstrating change. It is change and not the absolute position that matters. The BJP can make a fair claim that it has spread electricity well in Gujarat. The proportion of households that have access to electricity has increased from 80% in 2001 to 90% in 2011. And the BJP government has been in power during the entire period of this change. So, the party’s claim for this success should be fair. But, in the Lok Sabha elections due now, it is the relative