Monday, May 12, 2008

Why we hate politics, yet I voted

The following is the first draft, the longer version, of the article that appeared in The Times of India, Bangalore, today under the headline "Why I voted on Saturday". 
It's election time in my state, Karnataka. It's a three-phase polling, and among the places that went to polls day before yesterday, May 10, was the capital city, Bangalore. The second phase is on May 16 and the last on 22nd. The counting of votes is on 25th and by evening on that day, we will know who will be the state's new chief minister. Or if it'll again be an indecisive mandate; hopefully not.
The big surprise day before yesterday was the city recorded a very low percentage of voting -- only 44 percent. Poor turnout is actually no news -- not even in the US of A. But here it was a surprise because there was unprecedented mobilisation in the run-up to the polls. There was a virtual carpet bombing of messages -- by the resident welfare associations, voluntary organisations, business houses, IT companies and media -- enlightening citizens about the need to -- not just vote but to -- vote for the right candidate.
There were very explicit detailing of the reasons on why the educated middle class should vote. One of them was it is the only way the vote-bank politics (here it's a euphemism for buying of poor voters by politicians) can be smashed. The messages even worked out clear numbers saying how the educated middle class easily outnumber the poor in Bangalore city; and how we really have a say; how we -- by taking a conscientious decision -- can dictate the state of Bangalore. These messages, in fact, just stopped short of telling all of us whom we should vote for.
So, on polling day, Saturday, I expected a huge carnival of the youth brigade, long queues of computer software engineers and other professionals. All that crowd -- what we refer to as the jing-bang crowd -- that we are used to seeing on M G Road and Brigade Road; I thought they would have all enthusiastically jogged, trekked or picnicked their way the nearest polling booth; buzzed each other on the fun they were having. After all, it is they -- we all actually -- who are the victims of bad politics.  
Ultimately, it turned out that -- forget voting for the right candidate -- few even turned up to vote.
There are umpteen theories doing the rounds on why very few turned up. I don't think we need to commission a scientific study to know the reason -- cynicism and indifference to politics and politicians must surely be among the most common reason. Politics is low on priority for many people. If someone thought that majority are Bangaloreans will put off every things else to make sure they voted, then they were -- (and are?) -- mistaken.
Why politics is so low on priority levels?
1) We have taken democracy in India for granted.
We know nothing will go wrong. Sixty years of Independent India has seen some of the worst moments, but we all have seen how the political system is strong enough, to make sure that it doesn't get worse than what it already is. We know that even if we don't pay much heed, the political system will run; in such a way that won't make our lives more miserable than it already is.
2) Politics and politicians aren't worth our time and attention.
They are in a world of their own, we are in one of our own. Both are mutually exclusively, most of the time. They make their money, we make ours. They look the other way (to my convenience) most of the time, and so we too look the other way (to their convenience).
3) Politicians hardly inspire.
During elections, we elect legislators, the law-makers. They are supposed to discuss, debate and administer our society by enacting suitable laws and making sure that the laws are strictly adhered to. But, we have seen the way they behave in the place they work. It is so demotivating, that we prefer not to pay any attention. Many lawmakers are actually law breakers. We are any day better than them, aren't we?
4) Why we must cover up for politicians' failures?
Tasks are cut out. We all know what our corporators and legislators should do? When they aren't doing even a few percentage of what they actually should be doing, why must we spend our valuable time, effort and energy to cover up for their inadequacies and failures; especially, when ignoring politicians works quite well for us? Do, these politicians need to be hand-held, and told what to do, how and when? Instead, doesn't it make more sense to use our time and energy more productively for other activities -- need not always be personal, but other community and voluntary services? That's actually what ultimately most of us are doing -- disassociating ourselves from politics and politicians; working publicly in our own private spheres.  
5) Politicians aren't visible.
Vote? For whom? Why must we go through the rigmarole of getting a voter ID card and vote, when we don't even know whom we are voting for; never seen them, never heard them. Instead of voting, we might as well talk to the mountains. Anyway, many people who had voter ID cards themselves couldn't vote. What system are we talking about?
6) Good politics is desirable, but bad politics doesn't matter.
Mercifully, we are all gainfully employed. We have enough income to reasonably make both ends meet. We can all travel abroad, at least on work. Even for pleasure actually, if not every year, at least once in two or three years. Things what our parents couldn't even dream of. If there are no roads it's okay, we can have a modern (may be luxurious) car that won't make us even feel that we are on bad roads. Traffic jams? So what? We have wi-fi-enabled laptops that will virtually bring my office into my car. In way good that there are lots of traffic holdups, our car is stationary more often than it is moving.
But then why did I vote on Saturday?
Even though I very much agree with the half a dozen reasons that have been mentioned above, on polling day, I told myself, I must vote. We are blessed to be in India, a democratic country where we all have absolute freedom to choose the ruler. It's completely beside the point that our rulers aren't up to the mark. Politics and politicians in India need a complete makeover.
However, in a democracy, if the politicians' duty is to take care of people and administer the society, our duty is not only to obey the laws of the land, but also to take part in the due process that puts in place a good administrative setup. If politicians shun their part of the work, should I shun mine too?
I voted because in the political arrangement of democracy my job is the easiest -- to vote; I didn't want to fare poorer than the politicians.


  1. When I went to the polling booth, the people sitting with the lists were seen telling everyone that their name was not in the list. I insisted on checking the list and found my name. Many people went back without checking. There was no effort from the staff to check the lists and people who found their name were scrutinized like criminals even though we had Voter ID cards. This is the ground reality.

    When I went in to vote, I felt a deep discontent as I didnt want to vote for any of the names there. There was not a single candidate that inspired. I felt a helplessness that is indescribable!

  2. Wonder if the voter ID problem that Silverine speaks of is a problem in other areas of India. We have a lot of controversy in the U.S. about the voter ID idea, with some saying it discriminates against the poor and minorities who have difficulties in getting the ID cards because of lack of transportation, etc.

  3. good post. with a brilliant ending. looking forward to reading such posts rather than on cooks and women

  4. @Silverine.
    That point about you being told wrongly about your name missing is interesting. As you pointed out, many people may not even have bothered to check.

    In 2001, we saw quite a bit of this confusion in the US. But I always thought, in the US, these confusions aren't there.

    Thank you very much. I was actually trying to resolve this paradox on why I voted when I detested politicians, though not neessarily politics.

  5. enjoyed this post....our political scenario does need a make over...