Thursday, February 20, 2014

Educate legislators, not voters

The general election to constitute the 16th Lok Sabha is less than 100 days way. The excitement will steadily increase in the coming days with the announcement of candidates, party manifestos and nation-wide campaigning by political bigwigs, besides of course the stepped up coverage in the media. Simultaneously, we will also see efforts by, mainly non-profit social organizations, to enroll new voters and exhort them to cast their ballots on the voting day.

Voting is our right. We are told that it's also our responsibility, that if we don't go and vote, we will only allow the present morass to continue. An implicit assumption here is that if we vote, we can usher in a new society that is fair, just and devoid of the most ubiquitous vice of corruption.

Indeed elections form the bedrock of a democracy. We must be proud that our country is one of the few nations in the world where the citizens enjoy this freedom to vote in and vote out rulers.

Whenever I could vote, I have voted. And I value that right and freedom greatly.

But I don't understand how the number of people who vote can determine the quality of governance? And, how voters, by turning out in huge numbers, can ensure a better government.

We have corruption and poor standard of living not because all eligible voters don't vote; it's because, the people who are voted to power (be it by 30, 60 or 90% of the electorate) do not work sincerely for the welfare of the society. For the lawmakers, comfort of ordinary citizens figures very low in their priority list.

The media have covered extensively how our legislators fall short of expectation, and how a lot of precious time is lost in our legislatures. There is more of disruption than any constructive engagement.

We in India have the freedom to vote. Even without any effort, India's voters have been coming out in good numbers to cast their franchise. India's voting percentage of around 60% is not bad at all. It's comparable to the turnout in the UK and in the US. It's extremely difficult to draw a correct correlation between the turnout percentage and quality of governance or the standard of living of a society.

During the past 10 to 15 years, we have seen a lot of efforts by social organizations to get youngsters to register for voting and educate them to take part in the democratic exercise. But the fact is that in spite of all that, during the assembly election last year, Bangalore recorded the lowest turnout. There is a lot of cynicism. Some people are indifferent, but many are disenchanted. Part of the blame lies in the failure of the political class to inspire voters. I have heard so many times, remarks like: "If these are the type of politicians we have, then why should I vote?"

What has been happening Parliament during the last few days over Telangana, and yesterday's incident in the UP assembly are the more recent cases.

There is definitely nothing wrong in campaigning to educate voters. It should continue. Citizens, especially, youngsters must be made aware of the precious democratic right we are privileged to exercise on one single day once every five years.

But that merely won't do, and won't achieve anything substantial. A high voter turnout is a high voter turnout, one one particular day. That's it. What matters to any society is what happens during the next five years. So, a much more intense effort must be undertaken to educate lawmakers and other politicians on their responsibilities and how to serve the people, during the five years of their tenure. The exercise of voting will have any real meaning only if the elected representatives honour the votes cast in their name and serve the society.