Tuesday, April 21, 2009

‘You did not vote!’: Part II

[This follows the first part, 'You did not vote!']

In my opinion, the recent hoopla about urging people to vote is a fringe movement that happens to be solely an urban and elite phenomenon. It concerns only the yuppie Indians who have had shown appalling apathy towards Indian politics in the recent past. Over the past few decades there has been a steady decline in the voter turnout amongst educated and elite Indians. However this apathy is more starkly identified and reflected in metros where there is larger section of educated and elite Indians. In towns of India, the elite comprise a smaller section and hence their apathy goes unaddressed.

Most of the poor and rural Indians have consistently voted in large percentages over the last many elections and that has not dramatically decreased in the recent past. There is no clear sign of apathy amongst these sections. If ever, there has been an increase in their turnout, especially the poorest and lowest sections of the society. Dalits have been voting more than upper caste Hindus. The rural Indian has been voting more than the cities. Therefore these campaigns do not make sense to the poor and rural India.

There is no steady decline of voter turnout as these campaigners want you to believe. Here is the graph which shows the voter turnout for each Lok Sabha election.

Since 1962 the turnout has vacillated between 55-65% showing no remarkable trend. According Yogendra Yadav, a senior fellow at CSDS [emphasis mine]:

Now to address the widely held misconception that Indians are indifferent to voting in particular and politics in general. If we examine turnout levels in Lok Sabha elections from a global perspective, India is among the lower middle category. The global average of turnouts among electoral democracies in the post-war period is about 65 per cent. At 57 per cent, India is way behind the established democracies in Western Europe, but substantially ahead of the U.S. and most of South America.

If we assume spurious names (of those dead, migrated or simply non-existent) make up 10 per cent of our electoral rolls, the real turnout figures would be at least five per cent higher. Now that the Election Commission has taken steps to prune the electoral rolls, there should be an improvement in the voter turnout this time, an increase that will put India close to the global average.

Therefore, if we see a higher voter turnout in this year’s Lok Sabha elections, it may not be a result of these campaigns. But that will not stop these campaigners from celebrating (I can imagine what the front page of TOI will be).

It is a myth that voting in large number is somehow going to bring a change in India. We have been addressing the wrong side of the issue where the problem doesn’t even exist. The problem with Indian politics is not that the voting turnout has been low. The problem with Indian politics is that we don’t have good candidates to choose from. Indian politician is not accountable to the people who voted him into power. Indian politician does not pay the price for being dishonest, for lying, for cheating, and for lack of dignity or integrity. Indian voters can easily vote back the most degenerate candidate into power after knowing very well that he is a criminal, a rapist, a murderer, a cheater, and liar. What is the use of a heavy turnout if all candidates are equally bad? Voting in more numbers only increases the vote pool – it doesn’t automatically convert a bad candidate into a good one. Many dictatorships record 99% voter turnout, but that doesn’t change things for the people living there.

India is not showing a decline in voter turnout. So why this hullabaloo?

According to me, voting in more numbers is a feel-good factor that is being imposed on urban yuppie Indians making them feel they are part of the grand design called India, taking some credit for what’s happening in India, and also trying in their inadequate ways, just like talking about garbage but not actually doing anything about it, to wrest control of Indian politics so that their selfish and vested interests are served.

Why a sudden realization and why this urge to vote amongst urban yuppie Indians?

Over the last few decades, the urban yuppie Indians have realized, whether they like it or not, that their lives are intertwined with the rest of India. They cannot escape into their islands of excellence and prosperity so easily. They need to come out of it for all their needs, when trying to get their kids into colleges, when trying to get SEZs for their businesses, trying to wrest sops and tax breaks for their industries, and even when trying to get a chauffer for the car or maid for the home, and so on. Indian yuppies have realized that they cannot do anything without bowing down to the imbecile, uneducated, uncouth and uncivilized politician who they have come to detest. Indian politician does not care for this software engineer, this businessman, this rich and elite Indian, because he gets his power from the masses, those very masses this yuppie Indian has been trying to distance himself from.

Indian politician is more in tune with real India than yuppie Indians. That’s why these yuppie Indians don’t understand why and how reservations-based-on-caste came to be. They don’t understand why and how sops and incentives are given to farmers. While the yuppie Indians are trying hard to carve their islands of excellence and prosperity, Indian politician is the one who mesmerizes the Indian polity, the Indian rural, the Indian small towns, and he continues to benefit from their ignorance, their petty differences, and their prejudices to stay in power. The apathy of yuppie Indians has only made the situation good for the Indian politician. He doesn’t have to come to yuppie Indians to ask them what they want - he doesn’t need to because they don’t vote. He will just concentrate on his poor and rural vote bank. Doling out free coconuts or rice, dishing out free TVs, or giving free liquor, are different mechanisms politicians use to lure an Indian voter. A yuppie Indian can only look at this awful spectacle and not do anything about it.

If you go to a small town in India, all the candidates are equally bad. Indian voters have to choose the candidate, not based on what the candidate can promise or achieve, not based on merit of candidate’s actions or achievements, not based on his stand on issues, but based on the party he represents, which party has doled out more incentives even if they are short term, which party represents their language, religion, caste, region, better. Most Indian voters are not influenced by the candidate’s capabilities or competence.

Yuppie Indians who are used to corporate India, and who delude themselves into thinking that meritocracy is possible, where a ‘deserving’ candidate can be voted into power purely based on his achievements, qualifications, and degrees, do their part by campaigning and urging other yuppie Indians to come out and vote. That does not change anything because candidates are still the same. [Only some metros field candidates like Captain Gopinath. They are an exception].

According to Yogendra Yadav:

The poor vote more than the rich, especially in urban areas. For the last four general elections, Dalits have voted more than upper caste Hindus. Ever since 1977, rural areas have recorded higher turnout than the cities.

The recent attempt to come out and vote in huge numbers is not to change things for India. Not to influence India in a way. It is an attempt by the yuppie Indians to be part of the action so that this imbecile politician concedes that they are a vote block so that he would listen to their vested interests, so that they can finish up their islands of excellence and prosperity that got started few years ago.

The current campaign is an attempt by yuppie Indians to play a role in achieving a modicum of political power which has gone out of their hands long ago. To do this, they do not stand for elections, but only raise voices to vote – which does not make sense. The real problem these campaigns are addressing is not to increase the total turnout, but to increase the turnout of other likeminded yuppie Indians to form a vote block (which is not a bad thing).

Related Topics: 'You did not vote!'

1 comment:

  1. "Urban yuppie Indians" - I like that. Although I've never investigated the motives behind the eagerness shown in Indians today, this post makes for some useful reading. If I get a chance, I'll probe some of those yuppie indians and see where they are coming from. I'm inclined to believe you, because I'm quite aware of the shallowness of the typical middle class urban Indian.

    ~ Vinod


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