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Spoonfeedin WOrld

Columnist – Pritish Nandy;Choices we make

The Maharashtra elections are over. We await the results. Exit polls are unanimous. They say the coalition in power will return. In short, Congress is here to stay. Conventional wisdom, on the other hand, says people will vote for a change. This means the Sena may still come to power, despite the BJP’s deathwish and the MNS. But exit polls are often wrong and people ignore conventional wisdom. Everything blanks out when you are in front of the EVM. Your deepest fears suddenly surface before you push the button. That’s when you take a honest call. It no longer matters who promised you what. You vote for the person you think can make a difference to your life. That’s democracy. It’s also your moment of supreme honesty.

Yet everything that leads to it is totally fake. The lofty election promises, almost all of them just empty rhetoric. The dirty wheeling dealing that goes on till the last moment. The trading in nominations. The business houses that pay to get their men into critical positions. The cash raised by threat and extortion to buy crowds, manage vote banks, woo the Independents.

In that one moment, when you and I push the EVM button, we are making several choices. Political, ethical, personal. Curiously, on all of them, we compromise. We vote for candidates we do not like because we think they are the best of a bad lot. We endorse parties we don’t trust because we are fed up with the rascals in power. We support those who we think can offer us some semblance of stability in a world that’s becoming increasingly scary. In other words, we vote for everything but the person who’s to represent us. Many of us, in fact, vote blind. We never see the person we are voting for since candidates have long stopped going home to home, seeking votes. Now their thugs go out and manipulate the vote banks.

In fact, humility has long vanished from election rhetoric. So has austerity, even though we speak so much about it. Candidates stitch their campaign wear from fancy couturiers. The best photographers are hired to take mug shots for posters. Psephologists advise them on voting patterns so that candidates know how to behave in front of which group, what language to speak, what promises to make, who to praise and who to run down. Then there are the professional agencies who hire out crowds to different political parties. The same people turn out in different rallies, dressed differently, shouting different slogans, praising the candidate they are paid by and running down the others. The next day, they are elsewhere doing exactly the opposite. Political loyalties here are bought on daily wages. So are celebrity campaigners.

There was a time when you and I could sidestep all this and say, We’re not going to be a part of this sham. We don’t like any of these guys and we’re not going to vote for them. Being part of a democracy doesn’t force us to choose between Tweedledee and Tweedledum. We either make a serious, informed, political choice or stay away till good candidates are fielded. If we did that, parties will be forced to choose decent people. Or we could insist on a NOTA button just to point out that None Of The Above deserves our vote. If NOTA gets more votes than the winning candidate, a re-poll would be the obvious option. And parties will have no choice but to field better people. But it’s fashionable today to deride those who don’t vote. NGOs, the media, thought leaders are all exhorting us to go out and make a choice many of us don’t want to. They insist that democracy means casting your vote. Whereas, in truth, not voting is as much a political choice.

As voters become bored, jaded, fed up with the options available, we must devise new ways and means to force political parties to field better people. Every election sees deteriorating standards. The education level of candidates may go up. Gender prejudices may yield way. They may become younger, smarter, brasher. They may dress better, speak a cannier political language but can they give us a better quality of politics, better standards of integrity and performance? Do they make us proud of them? That’s the question we must ask ourselves before we push the button.

Our last bunch of winners increased their assets by a staggering 339%. That’s more than you and I did. That’s more than India did. And no, we are not counting their undeclared loot. There’s a Sena guy whose assets jumped 9564%, a CPM guy whose assets grew 5981%, a MNS guy whose assets grew 3625%, a Congressman whose assets grew 3073% and a BJP guy whose assets rose by 2122%. So pretty much everyone shared the loot while we silly people kept arguing over who deserves to win.

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October 20, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized |

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