BHARAT KI KHOJ
Vote to do or not to do
Large scale banners with faces and folded hands of representatives, messages fluttering along light posts, little flags strung together to form arches across the street and a certain buzz of anxiety, hope and power quietly filling up the ambience of the outside. Slicing across this buzz are screams and screeches of promises, assurance, and requests for votes. The voices heard in organized cordons in the street, through automated recorded machines fixed onto circumambulating vehicles and via loudspeakers tied at significant points in the neighborhood.
Take your eyes away from the street, and switch on the television set – the fervor seems slightly more organized, but the election titillation remains almost the same. Expert opinions, arguments in the name of discussions, blame games, cut–throat competitive defense are the prime-time focus.
Surveys, analysis of vote turn outs, psephologist predictions, percentages, numbers and more numbers roll out to concise this fervor and determine the eventual predictions of the outcome.
The representation in the street and the expression inside may vary, but the flavour - a festival like - that cannot be missed or overlooked. For a country, that has no shortage of festivals, yet another one; one that comes.; one that comes at relative interval of five years or so, at time irregularly depending on the jurisdiction. One that is celebrated by all, though with distinct divide of class, caste, religion and status.
Four months, 16,500 clerks, 3,80,000 reams of printed paper, 2 million bullet proof and tamper proof boxes consuming 8,200 tons of steel, 176 million people of which 85% were unable to read or write the names of political parties - this was the magnum opus setting for the first general election held in independent INDIA. It was heralded as the giant leap forward in democracy - not because of the mere statistical data, but more so because of the suddenness of eligibility of masses, who until sometime ago were being ruled over by oppressive policies, had now become the rightful electors of their government.
Some described this event as a 'leap in the dark’, some ‘fantastic’, the others a 'act of faith' whereas understandably, there were the skeptics as well. The sceptics were sceptical about whether such an electorate will be able to exercise its right to vote in a politically mature and a responsible manner. Some said that democratic elections were not suited to a caste-ridden, multi-religious, illiterate and backward society like India, and only a benevolent dictatorship could be effective politically in such a society.
The question today that looms over the democracy of INDIA is not whether the optimists or the sceptics have been appropriate in their vision, but where this faithful leap has brought us in the last 65 years? The answer is apparent. Far, very far in terms of the theatrics of the campaign, may be even far in being able to better organize the event, in terms digitisation with electronic voting machines, mass outreach, and probably the farthest possible in understanding the pulse of the country and shaping the possible results.
But janata (masses), pause and think for a moment. Do numbers, technology and results become yardstick to determine the giant leap of faith or progression of a democracy? For election after all, beyond any quantifiable number, is foremost an act of democracy – an eligibility of choice, a right to cast a vote
From your recent memory, recollect any of the election process of the recent past, and you can find a distinct pattern in all of them. Reportage, news articles and incidents such as people buying voters, misguiding masses on any common denominator of association, giving away commercial and personal indulgent items such as television sets, washing machines and even alcohol to seduce people into voting for parties have all been a recurring tend. Not just such pre-election tantrums, but even forging of voter cards, vote flipping, contamination of electronic voting machines, hijacking of voting centers are few of the commonly occurring trends of the processes.
With such incidents being reported and telecasted each time the first question that arises is that why does the democracy not take enough measures to protect the system? The same question can also be rephrased as to why the democracy is crippling its own democracy? Rather than pondering over the question, the answer is almost every time an excuse - ‘this country has such a large population – kisko kaise control kare?’ (how and whom do we control) The excuse is also the same democracy.
Of course, the coating of corruption may be another tailored excuse for such actions, but dwell upon this a little in depth and one would realise that there is a more concerning problem than what is apparent. The concern is that of the ready acceptance of such actions as part of the election process within the masses - as if, this is how it is and this is how it will continue to be. This casual acceptance is shocking!
“Election booth mein toh taas khelne ki purani parampara hai” (It is a tradition to play cards in the election booth); and “Voting machine ek khilona jaisa hai.. jo pasand aaye, achcha lage wo button daba do” (Voting machine is a like toy. Whichever button you like, you simply press) dialogues from the recent movie Newton (2017) probably best describes in a nutshell this casualness or nonchalance attitude towards elections from both ends of the spectrum. The former the organiser, the latter the voter – both speaking to represent the democracy.
After the commencement of the general elections, in 1951-52 the casual attitude towards this democratic right had crept in so deep into the system, that in the recent years the government and non-government institutes had to run ad campaigns in several media formats to remind people that elections are not a declared holiday in the country. One can imagine spending money for such ventures to make the population aware but to educate the literate of their responsibilities is certainly not an ‘act of faith’ but one of shame. The situations had worsened so much, and even till date continues to be so that even corporate establishments cashed in on this opportunity by creating advertisement slogans to encourage people to vote in the subtext of marketing their products.
Have these ventures made an impact? Yes, if read by statistics it has helped increase the voter count in the last few years. It has made the masses wake up, stand in the queue, press the button and flaunt the inked finger fashionably over social media.
As if the masses have done their duty better than the other pessimist classes who still debate “What will change with voting? Some corrupt party will rule the country anyway!” In between all this, there also remain the large section of the society who remind themselves in intervals to apply for their voter cards for the upcoming elections. So, who among the above have acted as per their right. The answer is none of the above. The democracy who must remind themselves of their eligibility is careless, the one who doesn’t choose to make a choice is weak and the one who does it as an action of duty is deceptive. Deceptive, because a right of choice is truly made over a prolonged engagement with a given condition, not merely by waking up to an occasion, which is ELECTION.
On one hand it is about ensuring that one can opine or make their voices heard freely, and on other hand it is about respecting that one has a voice which needs to be expressed willingly. For, over the last 65 years we remain largely a population where people are still oblivious of this fundamental right. This is not about illiteracy, but that of awareness and more so of engagement; of not being aware of ones’ right, and yet we engage with this right. This is probably the most fragile face of democracy that calls for a substantial collective effort. A kind of effort that requires to go from door to door – not to check on validity of eligibility but to make one realise that everyone - every single one of us – when it comes to act of election, actually has the same equal right - one finger, one button and one conscious choice - only then the 'leap in the dark' one day will find he rightful direction.
Sounds like a herculean task, doesn’t it? Yes, janata it does, may even take another 65 years. But it is still better than getting forever diluted in the histrionics of the event that marks the present nature of the election happenings. Don’t sit back and just vote for on change.org. Vote to remember your right, act your right, and make someone engage with their right – that is democracy because “jab tak kuch nahi badloge na dost toh kuch nahi badlega” (till you don’t change anything, my friend, nothing will change) – Newton (Film,2017)