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Columnist – Pritish Nandy;Why stability has an edge over change

Did the election results surprise you?

About 50% people I know said yes, we were surprised. Why? They were surprised because they expected voters to chuck out this thoroughly useless, inept Government that has delivered on no front. The state’s infrastructure’s collapsing. So is this city’s. Power, water, trains, roads, everything’s a mess. On top of that, the recession, which the Government is in denial of, has made life extremely difficult for the common man who’s facing salary cuts, disappearing jobs, rising costs, investment risks. At the same time, the fear of random acts of violence like terrorist strikes and bomb blasts keep him always terrified. In rural Maharashtra things are worse, so much so that farmers keep committing suicide at a rate that would soon challenge hit and run cases on Mumbai’s roads.

On the other hand 50% people I know said no, we were not surprised. What else did you expect? When things are so difficult, do you really expect people to take a risk and vote for change? Every time we’ve voted for change, things changed for the worse. So why are you surprised we voted for stability and continuity? We may not have anything good going for us right now but we simply can’t afford another painful political upheaval. Let things get better; we will think about change. This is the time to hold on to what we have. Let’s give these rascals another shot and, who knows, maybe they’ll deliver. If they don’t, we can always chuck them out later. In short, these people may not be happy with the way things are but they would like to postpone change till things get better.

Interesting na? That in a country where 40% people go to sleep hungry at night, we are still hesitant to vote for change. So even though everyone hates to see Mumbai and Maharashtra being run so badly, only some crave for change. Others see change as a tricky option and would rather wait it out.

The arithmetic of electoral change is also curious. In every constituency, you have just one person representing the status quo. He or she is the face of both failure and continuity. Ranged against that single person are all your options for change. You can pick the one you like. You can choose any of the mainstream Opposition candidates or you can choose a rebel if you want or one of the many Independents, some with immaculate credentials and backed by NGOs. The very fact that there are so many options for change means the vote for change will always be split. This is what gives stability a clear edge.

The second factor in every election is the level of motivation to vote. It’s sheer nonsense to insist that every intelligent Indian must go out and vote. Not voting is as much a valid political decision as voting. It’s not laziness that stops people from voting. It’s disappointment. It’s the voter’s way of saying, I hate all these thugs and won’t vote for any of them. Give me a better choice. The less we vote, the more the parties are compelled to offer us more decent candidates. The kind of people they currently field is a downright shame and it gets worse with every election. In fact, if you want more people to vote, the answer lies in institutionalising the not voting option by adding a NOTA button. This will ensure the voter casts his or her vote and yet not vote for any of the candidates available. If NOTA gets maximum votes in a constituency we can demand a repoll with new candidates.

The funny thing in the arithmetic of Stability vs Change is that while Opposition parties have to strive for unanimity, to reduce the number of candidates representing change, those in power have to do nothing apart from sitting back and fomenting trouble in the ranks of the Opposition. The more dissidence you create in the Opposition, the easier it is to beat them. Political issues apart, even money can do the trick. Just keep paying more and more people to stand for election. It will only improve the odds for those in power.

In any case, now that stability has won the mandate and the Congress is all set to rule for another five years, maybe it’s time to focus on how to make the Government work. For some strange reason, most of believe we get a chance only once in five years to change the Government. Not true. You get a chance every moment, every day to voice your disappointment, your anger, your demand for change and you must voice it. It’s your democratic right. It’s also the only way to keep a Government working.

Luckily I am a journalist. It allows me to voice my frustrations. But there are many others who voice it as thinkers, poets, activists, playwrights, painters, politicians. They make Indian democracy such a vibrant institution. Respect this power, this opportunity. Use it

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October 27, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized |

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