May 6, 2009

Shut Up And Vote!

"Shut up and vote!" So proclaims a popular campaign!


I had, perhaps a tad too optimistically, thought that the series of terror attacks over the last few years - in trains and buses, in temples and mosques, in malls and markets - coupled with rampant corruption eating at the very ethos of India, would have sensitised us urban voters of the need for an overhaul in governance. We saw regular and fairly well-publicised campaigns imploring us to vote in droves and change the face of tomorrow.

Yet, surprisingly, voter turnout was in a shocking 40-45 percent range. In Mumbai, no less! More than half the voters did not even turn up at the polling booths. Most of the stars and starlets who beseeched us to vote certainly did not! Sure we heard of how badly organised the whole show was, what with hapless people being shuttled from one booth to the other (in Mumbai, travelling a distance is no laughing matter) and not finding their names in the electoral roll. Inadequate arrangements and total apathy to the comfort of the voters was another issue. More significantly, the choice of candidates could be politely termed as 'inadequate' (save a very few), and the party manifestoes were vague to say the least. But then, since when did such trivial obstacles dim the radiant Spirit of Mumbai?

This is not just sad; it is downright shameful. And disturbing. It has simply confirmed the notion among political parties that all the urban middle-class knows is to make a noise, shout out from the rooftops our complaints, tell anyone who will listen about how rotten the entire system is, unite to bring justice or protest throttling of our freedom. We are aware of our rights and intolerant of discrimination. We are sensitive and patient. But we are electorally irrelevant. Which is why no one has ever visited our homes or stood at our doorsteps to tell us who they are and why we should vote for them.

We never hesitate to take the lead in standing up or raising a voice. We unite to silence bigots and fundamentalists who decide for us and force us to obey. We hit the streets in obvious outrage when misuided religion strangulates artistic freedom. We stand for candlelight vigils against politicians en-masse after a terrorist attack. We demand justice for innocent victims and retribution for the culprits. But why, oh why, do we not make a difference to the composition of the Indian Parliament. What holds us back there?

We duly demonstrate reactionary citizenship. It takes an incident or a disaster, irrespective of magnitude, to waken us from our apathy and indifference and unite for a cause. And unite we do! But it is the same people - us - who fail to ensure that we choose those who we wish to represent us. While we demand our rights be granted and our demands met, we do not turn up to exercise our voting rights or to demand judicious governance. Is it that we simply do not care who it is that ultimately steers our ride? Are we not worried that our foundations would give way? Are we rather relieved that we have held up for so long? Is it not our duty to select the right candidates and ensuring that those promises are kept? Do we not possess the power to force our elected representatives to be accountable? This is also part of the democratic process.

It is now for Delhi and NCR to show they can and will do it; that they can and will bring about change, that they can and will ask for more, that they can and will decide their own tomorrow. I know that we - the urban population - figure very low on the politicos' list, that our votes would impact a measly 22% of the total LS seats, that we would easily be outnumbered by the rural populace, that your vote or mine would hardly make a difference. The choice of candidates is as 'inadequate' as it was elsewhere, the manifestoes of political parties remain as vague, and the arrangements will be as shoddy as ever. But why on earth should that excuse us from exercising a right that we fought very hard to deserve?

It is a myth that on account of being small in number, the educated civil society cannot influence electoral outcomes. It is simply that most of us are not motivated enough to engage with the political class. We abstain from voting because we believe that we are too small a force to change the face of Indian politics. But the contours of Indian politics are changing, and this time we - the urban middle-class - can indeed impact results. If a like-minded group wanting good governance demands better candidates, there is no reason why political parties will not reach out. Who knows, your vote or mine could be that one vote that could make all the difference! And even if it doesn't, vote simply because you and I matter. This time, step out and vote. For yourself.


May 7, 2009

The hearts of Delhi/NCR beat as one.
The nerve centre of the nation awakens.
A billion people vote.

10 comments:

  1. yup hope Delhi and NCR does it...fingers crossed :)))
    all ready to vote tmrw!:)))

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  2. It's a viscious cycle: the educated dont' vote beacuse they don't think they can make a difference; and they don't make a difference because they don't vote. The real voters- poor and uneducated- turn out in hordes and excercise their votes. What right do we have, then, to complain that our politicians suck up tp vote banks? Wouldn't you, if you were a politician? Why would you give a rat's fart about the sauve, educated types who, while able to write scholarly articles on the state of the nation couldn't be buggered to stand in the polling line? We are all highly opinionated, mind you, but our opinions mean nothing if we don't participate in the basic democratic machinery.

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  3. Couch Clown:
    Welcome! I'm honoured to have you on board. Seriously, i just had to read the first post you wrote, titled "Hello Children" to know that I have to blogroll you. So that's what I did, and welcome to the club! Hoping to read lots and lots about you.
    What you wrote here, I agree with every single vote. No wonder no one comes to our doorstep to ask for votes. Two reasons. First, they know we are not stupid enough to vote for them if they 'gift' us cash or illicit liquor or foodgrain or saris or whatever else they distribute to buy their voters. Second, they know we anyway would prefer sleeping in with our ACs on or taking the family to a hill resort to coming out and voting, so why bother kowtowing to us.
    You're right, we are highly opinionated - we know why one party is brazenly communal while another promises quotas for votes while yet another divides us on castes if not on religion. But we do not exercise the power of the ballot to prevent them from forming the next government.
    Maybe our votes are so minimal as compared to the rural population that they won't make much difference. But maybe these are the very votes that ma make all the difference. And if not, at least we get the message across that we need a better choice of candidates, and are not content with the governance we've been subjected to so far.
    But tell me, does a silent protest gain as much airtime as a nonsensical yet noisy one? Tell me why a Varun Gandhi or a Pramod Muthalik or a Naqvi is given more coverage and causes more outrage than a Medha Patkar or an Irom Sharmila or a Nisha Susan? Why is it that we hungrily lap up a Raj Thackerey spewing venom but can not hear a Pooja Chauhan before she strips to her underwear to get noticed? I really wish people start looking up to Mrs. Neelam Katara or to Ms Sabrina Lal to understand how a war for justice is fought - that it is not necessary to resort to violence or chaos to be heard. That the ballot speaks louder than any protest ever will.

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  4. Loved your blog, and thanks a ton for blogrolling me. I have returned the compliment.

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  5. Some reporter wanted to interview me outside the centre. Apparently something about "young people voting" seem to gives mediapeople a metaphorical erection. I told her to sod off. I realize it was mean, but in my defense it was hot, sunny, parched and the centre was smelling of piss and I was not in the best of moods. :)

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  6. delete that last comment. I mistakenly put blogspot instead of wordpress and apparently some german guy is also a man on the couch!

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  7. Couch Clown:
    Hey, I won't delete any comment of yours! And since you've clarified, its rather unnecessary now. :)
    "metaphorical erection" - that had me in splits.
    But then, we must give the media credit for some good they did, like urging people to vote or shaming them when they didn't (Bangalore, Mumbai, even Delhi), and for helping in some teeny way (though twisted and for their own blessed TRPs) to let the country see Manu Sharma and Vikas-Vishal Yadav behind bars.

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  8. Hi Surbhi,

    I realize, I'd be in minority position in saying this, but I don't think, our voting is going to make palpable change to the system.

    Since, I type this through my cell phone, I can't copy-paste a certain comment that I'd posted at another blog, which is here:

    http://maddyscape.blogspot.com/2009/04/its-all-about-making-difference.html

    In addition to that I'd like to explain that political parties are composed of pockets of powers. Choice of candidates is not so much a prerogative of party's leadership as it looks like. People vote for individual leaders--many times. Like, Narayan Rane, though less powerful now than before, still can't be sidelined by the Congress because he 'guarantees' around 4-5 LS seats.

    Second, political parties have stopped seeing as long term. They know that however good or bad they function, there's no guarantee of winning the next term's election. So, they take the one term they get as five-year picnic for fun and frolic.

    If I ask you this question, "I believe, you're a good, conscientious and educated citizen, would you contest next election?" Even if I were to assume, you say "yes" in the heat of the moment, when you'll actually try to contest, you'll realize, you'll be an insignificant piece of furniture to the whole electoral process. And if you're really honest (such that you might break the food chain of corruption), and have a good chance of winning, then you'll most certainly face some real dangers to your life.

    http://mhaisalmusings.blogspot.com/2009/04/hadnt-i-said-elections-are-for-those.html

    You might find the above blog a bit informative with regard to ground realities. And mind you, if you'll be aware of Maharashtra's politics, you'll realize that this educated (IIT-alumni) and progressive (atheist) person is REALLY, REALLY, REALLY politically well-connected (that you'll realize only on going through the rest of his blog).

    The point I'm trying to make is that basically, even electorally, there's no incentive for any member of legislature to function in a competent and transparent fashion.

    Where do you think, the amount of money required to fight elections comes from? Whatever the source, once someone becomes part of the legislature, they've to firstly, fulfill their pre-electoral promises (not the ones made to the citizens, but to the above sources), and then fill their own pockets. Remember, this is just another source of income for the politicians...

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  9. ...Since they look at the money they'd put in to fight elections as an 'investment', they try their best to 'recover' it. And once they recover it, they know there's no one to stop them, and they just go on in their corrupt practices. They are not bothered if they'll win the next election.

    And even if they'd be bothered about winning the next time around, they'd know that they'll need to 'invest' again, and for that they'll start amassing capital sometime during their current term. And they'd know that to win, they'll again turn to poor voters who'd be more bothered about liquor and sarees. Because they're less educated and poor. And is it very difficult to see that for over sixty years, HAD THE SUCCESSIVE GOVERNMENTS WANTED, poverty and illiteracy could've been considerably reduced by making education more accessible and laying greater stress on family planning? But the same politicians precisely benefit by keeping the masses ignorant and undereducated.

    I'm not saying we should not vote. As such there's no harm in voting ;) But harm is in expecting that it'll change things. The problem is more fundamental. Our taking everything merely as a source of livelihood, and not being sincere towards and passionate about our respective vocations (including politics). Is it uncommon to find vast majority of people taking up some vocation only because it'll say them well without giving a thought about their own aptitude and responsibility that the said profession would entail? Same's the case with politics. Till that changes, nothing's really going to change (according to me). And if, when and how would that happen--God only knows! (I'm an atheist ;) so God knowing and things changing in visible future have comparable probabilities according to me).

    Have you thought, if with age comes maturity, and so it does with education, why only age-limit (adult franchise) is applied to decide eligibility to vote, and not education?

    Eloquent post, well written! Just that I didn't agree with the faith you put in our electoral process.

    Take care.

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