Voting – A Holy Dip in the Ganga of Democracy

The drive in print and electronic media exhorting everyone to exercise their political, social, moral, spiritual right or duty to vote was quite strident – so black and white – so not balanced or nuanced …. so pompous.


One almost expected a transformation – like developing a halo around heads on the way back from voting … or starting to walk on a cloud …. or zapping India into the shining democracy that it is … not.


It was like the good old Hindu dip in the Ganga, supposed to cleanse us of our sins – vote, and presto, your legitimacy as a good democratic citizen is secured. It is your open ticket to abuse the government and ‘demand’ accountability


This simplistic, single flourish to affirm that we are a democracy is disturbing. Because it is wrong. It doesn’t lead people to think of their own individual role and responsibility as democratic citizens at all. It is totally lost in the self-satisfied clamour to analyse the report cards of MLA’s, MP’s, political parties, the system …..


It pitches us against them.


‘Us’ – the poor, honest, hard-working citizens, and ‘Them’ – the rich, corrupt, lazy politicians.


‘Make you vote count’, screamed the papers, ‘Vote for change’


If only mere voting could ‘change’ things!


Political representatives are not pizza delivery boys and girls. We can’t sit in our homes, undemocratic in the way we think, behave and live, and expect to just ring our votes in for a vibrant democracy.


In a democracy it’s the other way round – our political representatives are our deliverance – they show us what we – the people – have achieved in the past five years, ten, twenty…. fifty-two.


We still refer to the political party at the center as the “ruling” party. We expect good ‘leaders’ and politicians to make everything all right. We have hardly moved on from the passive role of the ‘ruled’ who pray for the next good king or monarch or governor to alleviate our woes and make our lives better.


If Mayawati is no Barack Obama and Rahul Gandhi no John F. Kennedy, they are reflecting our society’s brutality and vacuity – of a caste group that despite decades of constitutional equality is stubbornly rebuffed political, economic, social and educational parity.


The baba-log in politics – pushed and propped by dads and mums – are no different from the baba-log from other powerful professions – films, business, medicine, etc. – where parents equally vigorously, shamelessly, protect and fund their academically and professionally indifferent children – to leapfrog to the top … or stay out of jail.


Democratic citizens actively ensure democratic governance and an accountable government. Not just in token acts, like voting, and empty slogans, but in our day-to-day actions.


Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King’s leadership has been backed by the dogged involvement, passion and commitment of the American people – every day, day after day, year after year; of people big and small …. black and white. They argued, persuaded, litigated …. actively involved themselves to move on from Mississippi burning in1964 to Barack Obama becoming president in 2009.


How does the vote in a democracy of people count who don’t think it priority to have a Workers Bill for the unprotected domestic workers and related staff like drivers, maalis, chowkidars?


Where parents spend hundreds of thousands of rupees to secure a place in a high status school for their child while casually driving past children begging on the roads and sleeping on pavements?


Where people drive rough-shod through cyclists and pedestrians, honking loudly and abusing them for their very existence?


People who feel it’s their right to park their cars in public spaces without paying for them, but want slums, where families pay thousands of rupees for just a roof over their heads, to be ‘cleaned’ up.


What kind of “change” is these people’s vote going to bring?


When we have a significant number of people who live and fight for principles they expect politicians to follow – ‘democratic’ principles – of involvement, parity, respect and caring; when enough of us actually believe that the unfortunate kids scavenging the bins deserve as good as our own children and allow them into ‘our’ schools, only then will we begin churning up bureaucrats worth respecting and politicians worth spending precious time and grey matter thinking about. Till then it will remain a contest for the dumb and dumber, so excuse me if I kept my hands clean of the little black blot and didn’t vote.

Nirupama Sekhri

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