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Thursday, May 30, 2024

GO VOTE! IT’S YOUR RIGHT

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The Indian democracy may have failed in many of its deliverables (from right to food, right to work or shelter) but what it does with great aplomb is conduct its elections efficiently. It is in fact, according to political observers, the largest humanly organized event anywhere in the world

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The excitement over elections has already started. And the world will be watching us as these elections are a defining moment for our democracy. The way we vote, and who we vote for, will define the nation’s course for the next few years. It is therefore our duty, a sacred duty to bestir ourselves and vote. There is no doubt, a sense of doom among us of how from being a secular country with so much freedom in recent times we have been silenced or coerced into expressing an official thought.

Whatever the outcome though, we should be proud that we are a democracy where every citizen irrespective of gender or class has the right to vote, and decide the country’s leader! The process of elections in India is by itself fascinating and is not seen anywhere else in the world in terms of its scale or the money spent by its 870-odd candidates representing a staggering 673 parties (In 2019, parties and candidates spent an estimated $8.7 billion to woo more than 900 million eligible voters).

Nearly a billion people will vote in 10.05 lakh polling right. In the West, elections are quiet affairs with people taking an hour or two off from work to go cast their votes. But here it is almost a mela, with the Election Day being declared a national holiday. In rural areas people wear their best clothes to go cast their vote, even being taken there in colorfully decorated bullock carts or autos.

The otherwise disorderly Indian waits quietly in long lines to go inside a polling booth to cast  his vote. Analysts continue to wonder what is it about Indian elections that remains such a sacred ritual. The Indian democracy may have failed in many of its deliverables (from right to food, right to work or shelter) but what it does with great aplomb is conduct its elections efficiently.

It is in fact, according to political observers, the largest humanly organized event anywhere in the world! Think of the sheer scale of elections: the number of people going to vote, the number of elections officers deployed, the number of polling booths, and finally the scale of a billion ballot papers having to be counted in a country where few things run efficiently. And the ordinary Indian who most of the time feels invisible, feels empowered with the vote he has. Indeed, as he stands at polling stations, he is equal to the actor or the politician standing in the queue along with him. Yet, we in urban India have grown cynical of the elections and of democracy itself.

We have lost the idealism with which Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Ambedkar, or Jawaharlal Nehru constructed the blocks of this nascent democracy at the stroke of midnight hour. Things may have degenerated; religion, caste, class, and gender may now divide us but, let us believe in the process of democracy itself. That we have the power to set things back on track.

Yet we hear the first-time voters have not even registered so far. Only 38 percent of those between the ages of 18-25 have registered so far, and that is sad because they don’t realize their lives will be closely tied to the politics of  the country. The right to vote is a gift. Do exercise it!   booths in seven phases spread across 44 days in centers across the country. They will elect a 543-member Lok Sabha where the leading party will choose the prime minister who will lead us from here.

The Election Commissioner says that 49.7 crore male and 47.1 crore female voters – are eligible to cast their vote in the current elections. As of January 2021, there were 95 million registered voters in the country. Of these 1.8 crores are first-time voters between the ages of 18-20. The Election Commission mandates that there should be a polling booth within  2 kms of habitation, and literally, election workers trek across forests, deserts, mountains, and glaciers so that every eligible Indian can vote. In fact, in the core area of Gir Forest in Gujarat, the sole inhabitant of this last refuge of the Asiatic lion has a dedicated polling booth complete with an electronic machine!

When the Constitution was being written there were serious doubts about whether universal franchise should be made a right, and there were concerns whether this nascent democracy would work given the high illiteracy rate then, (as now). Interestingly, the parties’ symbols used in the elections were because they felt the majority will be able to recognize the symbols rather than read the candidates’ names while casting their vote.

But in the 75-odd years of democracy, we have seen, Indians more than people of any other country, treat voting as a sacred right. In the West, elections are quiet affairs with people taking an hour or two off from work to go cast their votes. But here it is almost a mela, with the Election Day being declared a national holiday. In rural areas people wear their best clothes to go cast their vote, even being taken there in colorfully decorated bullock carts or autos. The otherwise disorderly Indian waits quietly in long lines to go inside a polling booth to cast  his vote.

Analysts continue to wonder what is it about Indian elections that remains such a sacred ritual. The Indian democracy may have failed in many of its deliverables (from right to food, right to work or shelter) but what it does with great aplomb is conduct its elections efficiently. It is in fact, according to political observers, the largest humanly organized event anywhere in the world! Think of the sheer scale of elections: the number of people going to vote, the number of elections officers deployed, the number of polling booths, and finally the scale of a billion ballot papers having to be counted in a country where few things run efficiently. And the ordinary Indian who most of the time feels invisible, feels empowered with the vote he has. Indeed, as he stands at polling stations, he is equal to the actor or the politician standing in the queue along with him.

Yet, we in urban India have grown cynical of the elections and of democracy itself. We have lost the idealism with which Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Ambedkar, or Jawaharlal Nehru constructed the blocks of this nascent democracy at the stroke of midnight hour. Things may have degenerated; religion, caste, class, and gender may now divide us but, let us believe in the process of democracy itself. That we have the power to set things back on track. Yet we hear the first-time voters have not even registered so far. Only 38 percent of those between the ages of 18-25 have registered so far, and that is sad because they don’t realize their lives will be closely tied to the politics of  the country. The right to vote is a gift. Do exercise it!

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