Originally Published 2012-01-18 00:00:00 Published on Jan 18, 2012
Has Indian democracy failed its people? Maybe it is time for all of us to introspect and answer this question in a genuine manner.
Why should I vote?
When Harvinder Singh delivered a tight slap right across Sharad Pawar's face, the resounding echo elicited reactions from all strata of society and political parties. While a slap may not be an accepted form of protest, it did indicate the level of frustration felt by the Indian middle class at an increasingly unresponsive political system. The violence of the action came in for justifiable criticism. At the same time the deep-rooted desperation of the common man against a corrupt political system that does not adequately reflect his aspirations was also acutely recognised. The frustration and desperation are real, frantic and genuine.

But the same cannot be said of the reactions of certain section of the intelligentsia, which I refer to as pseudo-intellectuals. Initially, many viewed the assault on Pawar as the product of emotional outrage and restlessness of the common man. It's rather simplistic, but still a relatively acceptable explanation. But the pseudo-intellectuals went overboard by casually blaming the common man for everything from the current political instability, coalition politics to the various fundamental issues faced by India. As if such situations were not the outcome of poor governance but rather the result of the irresponsibility of the average Indian citizen who either used his vote in an injudicious manner or, worse, did not use it at all. The contention of the pseudo-intellectuals is that the current - or for that matter the past or the future - political leadership should not be blamed for the crisis of confidence facing the average Indian. Rather the blame lies with the citizens who voted such a leadership to power. As an ordinary citizen and unfalteringly regular voter since the age of 18, I strongly condemn and reject this baseless accusation.

The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) elections are going to be held on February 16. In India, on an average, the overall turnout of voters in an election is around 55 percent. So in every election close to 45 percent don't exercise their franchise. That's a big chunk of Indians who are showing, even in an indirect manner, their lack of faith in democracy. As a regular vote-giving Indian, I herewith document my objections against arguments that put the onus of poor governance on my voting credentials and choice.

1.  Even after voting regularly and paying my taxes in time, I do not believe my day-to-day life has been made comfortable by the unparalleled functioning of the government or the local self-governing bodies.

2.  I travel by railway every day. In my journey from Virar to Churchgate, during the peak hours, I do not get a seat, even inadvertently, in a train starting form Virar.

3.  The local train, which I travel in, towards Churchgate, is habitually late by 10-15 minutes. As a result, I am often late for work. Interestingly, I have to suffer a cut in my salary or the loss of my casual leave; whereas the motorman of the train gets additional payment as he works beyond his service hours (overtime!).

4.  On any festive occasion or holiday, taking into consideration the railway ticket vending system and overall rail journey, likewise the pothole-ridden roads and agonizing road traffic, travelling in private car is not comfortable for me either.

5.  A favourite TV programme, which I can view only once a week, is almost impossible to watch regularly due to intermittent power cut-offs in my locality. In addition to this, when I call up at the concerned office no one answers the call. Even after complaining persistently about such a situation, it remains regrettably in the same state due to inaction by the authorities. Hence, the government does not even let me enjoy and entertain myself happily.

6.  As a citizen, I am liable to answer any official letter received by me from the government; whereas it is not obligatory for the government to answer any of my request-letters or any such letters presenting good and viable alternatives.

7.  I find it to be a herculean task to get any government certificate from the government office in a single visit. Several visits are wasted in the government office to acquire the certificate. Consequently, I have to fritter away my quota of official leave for such trivial purposes as collecting namesake certificates.

8.  I had a similar excruciating experience while applying for the Aadhaar card. The process is as follows: get up at 6 am, stand in the queue for getting a token number, again queue up by 10 am for getting a photograph captured by their webcam. If the machine does not work, one has to come back to the venue after 2 pm. Despite these efforts, the very first line on the card that I receive reads: This is not a proof of citizenship. So much for my vote. Therefore, it is evident that more of my office leave would be spent on gathering my proof of citizenship.

9.  While travelling by a private or public transport, if the driver or the conductor does not have the exact change for the fare, I have to let go Rs 2, Rs 3 or Rs 4. However, I am not made an exception in such a situation. I must pay the exact fare (not even 50 paise less is tolerated). Thus, I suffer the economic brunt and on top of that if I am travelling by BEST bus, the conductor is often at liberty to demean me and my ancestors.

10.  Nowadays, there has been no transparency even in the distribution of cooking gas cylinders. The government servants and public representatives, their relatives, even their boot-licking cohorts can avail of cooking gas cylinders without standing in any queue. But for people like me, it is only when we queue up for more than a couple of days together, we can avail of our very own legitimate cooking gas cylinder as a once-in-a-month facility. Of course, a portion of my official leave has to be sacrificed for this.

Now, I have a few simple questions. Why should I vote? What has my precious vote gotten me so far? Apart from pot-holed roads, crowded and late trains, unending queues and various forms of harassment from different levels of bureaucracy. How has my blind faith in this current form of democracy made my life any better?

It is easy for pseudo-intellectuals sitting in their air-conditioned cabins, attending 'you-scratch-my-back-and-I-will-yours' seminars, conferences, workshops and cocktail parties to string together articles berating the 'common man's foolishness'. The game plan of the intelligentsia in making the ordinary citizen feel guilty may succeed superficially. But perhaps if the pseudo-intellectuals search hard for their moth-balled consciences and dust them thoroughly, they might unearth the reality. It's the political parties who have been consistently unsuccessful in providing any inspirational purpose for voting at the elections and, therefore, the eligible voter population does not vote. Like it or not, this is the truth. Maybe, just maybe, the pseudo-intellectuals do not vote? If they vote, then aren't they also getting the governance they deserve?

The preamble of the constitution begins by recognising the power of the common man. Maybe the pseudo-intellectuals feel they are uncommon, with an uncommon arrogance, uncommon intellectual disability and an uncommon ability to not see the reality. Just imagine if everyone starts feeling like me and decides not to vote. How is the pseudo-intellectual going to explain that?

(The writer is a Research Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Mumbai)

Courtesy: Governance Now

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