The Elections That Were

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Written on the 30th of April, 2009, after I voted for the first time in the country’s General Elections for the candidate to the Lok Sabha.

Lost my electoral virginity today. Rule says, I HAVE to wait till eighteen for that. I was almost eighteen the last time this great Dance of Democracy took place. So I had to wait till today to get into the fray.

It wasn’t the first time I had been going into a polling booth. Had been there for every election that had happened before this one, with my parents – be it national, state or local. Heck, I even used to get my finger painted with the black dot as a child! And then flaunt it around, like I am doing now!

But this time, I had been to the polling station for not fooling around. So, it definitely felt absolutely different. For one, I clearly understood for the first time why the whole hullabaloo is called the Dance of Democracy. The queues, the volunteers, the voters – both first time, last time, and others – the center itself exuding a sense of importance, of something momentous happening. There are many reasons why people prefer democracies over other types of governments. The election day and the process, I bet my life on it, is definitely one of them. For those who missed the elections, for reasons, moral, practical, emotional and banal, they truly missed feeling a sense of belonging to the whole conglomerations of races, languages, religion and most importantly, people, that is this nation of India.

So there I was, a tingle in the air, goosebumps on my skin, to participate in the biggest event of the country, even bigger than IPL, as the TRPs have now proven. And the whole thing was pretty simple too. Just know in which rooms of the many I was to vote in, go there, stand in a small queue to confirm your registration details, get your finger marked with a long slash of the indelible ink (it was the middle finger this time; guess the election commission wanted to show the politicians a billion of them), go to the EVM and press the button next to the sign sported by the candidate you want to vote for. A loud beep later, you have fulfilled your side of the bargain!

As simple as that! Yet, the total amount of voting in Mumbai was around 40% on average. Dismal. People took the first train/ flight/ bus out of Mumbai when they got to know about the long “weekend” that was coming up. Yes, even those who had shouted slogans, formed human chains and burnt a kajillion candles after 26/11. Others who did stay in the city were too busy with work, break-ups, birthday parties, weddings and phone calls to have bothered to register their names in the voting list. Still others had not followed up with seeing whether their names figured on the voting list or not. Who will do that much jhanjhat? Some had everything in place but out of desperate rebelliosness, stayed out of it. And still others had felt it was too sunny to venture outside. Sigh!

Be as it may. As it turned out after the election, me and my parents had voted different people. While both my parents had voted for a candidate for the constituency, I had voted for a Prime Ministerial candidate. What a difference in the way choices are made! When we finally let the cat out of the bag AFTER voting for our respective candidates, my parents were a teeny weeny bit disappointed that I did not follow in their footsteps, but quite proud that I had made thought-invested decision of my own. I feel bad for those children who did not grow up in a culture of participating in this process of democracy and whose parents instead took the day off as a holiday on which to relax or scoot away somewhere. I think the Ram Sene should attack such families for giving excuses for not participating in the elections.

Anyways, the entire night yesterday I had spent on the internet, trying to know more about the candidates that were contesting and the choices I had. It is a very strange situation that indirect elections like ours, put us into. Direct elections are like the US Presidential elections, where you directly vote for the party/ person who will lead the country. Indirect elections rely on people choosing their local representatives who go on to form the government, like in India. The elections are past us, but I bet not all of us know this even now. And why don’t we know this? Because, in schools, we are simply not taught stuff and its practical relevance. We learn stuff, vomit it on papers and then our minds look like straight out of the washing machine. Then again, in Civics in school, we learnt about who is eligible to stand for elections to the Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha and the state legislatures too. But did one chapter talk about what these people are supposed to do once they are elected? Did the texts talk about what part we are supposed to play in this entire thing?

Going back to the strange situation that our indirect elections put us in, we elect a candidate to represent us in the Lok Sabha. At the same time, we are also supposed to be thinking of the ruling party in the Lok Sabha who would rule the country. The paradox it creates when I want a certain local representative and another ruling party at the center, would flummox even Einstein and his mental buddies. So, at best, my vote is a compromise.

But, I am not thinking of all this as I write this. What we forget when we vote is that, like the reality shows on television, when we talk about the people voting someone in, it may not be your candidate who wins. It is a gamble at the end of the day. But a gamble which is going to decide your life, whether you lose or win. This is what kills a little of the motivation that people have in voting, whether they realise it themselves or not. Only thing is, unlike reality shows, here it is your duty to vote.

And so, having done my duty very dutifully (bad copy!) here I am, flaunting my newly achieved dark mark on which I wouldn’t really apply Fair & Lovely. I was a little tense before I went on to the EVM and made the machine beep with my choice, as if it had had its fill and it burped. Tense because I was afraid I would make the wrong choice. Tense because, young as I am, my age might cloud my vision. I even thought of not voting instead of having made a choice I would later regret. And anyways, a practical mind wouldn’t expect one’s fortunes with infrastructure and policy to change overnight just because one participated in the process of democracy. Now after having voted finally, I have just one hope though. With the kind of people standing for politics and after having stood, what politics makes out of even ‘good’ people, you shudder at the possibility of you having cast the vote that let the monster lose on the grounds. Hence, my only hope is, I don’t mind my candidate being useless. I just hope that along with that, he turns out to be harmless too.

 

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