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.