Archive for March, 2012

Why should one vote?

Posted on March 26, 2012. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Why should one vote?
A response to Swaroop Pandit’s article published in our last issue

GovernanceNow | March 16-31, 2012

Jagdeep S. Chhokar

Swaroop Pandit’s (Governance Now, March 01-15) title question
‘And I ask why should I vote?’ is perfectly legitimate but his last
question ‘How is the pseudo-intellectual going to explain that?’

seems somewhat discriminatory. Can only pseudo-intellectuals
explain this or can others also try? Assuming the latter, here is an attempted
response.

First, the agreement. I totally agree with Pandit that blaming the citizens/voters
for voting undesirable people to power is completely wrong. I also agree with
Pandit when he “strongly condemn(s) and reject(s)” the “accusation” 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…(and) rather
the blame lies with the citizens who voted such a leadership to power.”

Pandit is absolutely on the dot when he says that “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”. I
cannot agree with him more. This line of argument can be taken further
to say that actions of political parties are deliberately designed to make the
“thinking” voters such as Pandit to not vote. The type of candidates political parties
put up in elections brings out these actions in sharp relief. Data gathered by
the National Election Watch (NEW) and the Association for Democratic Reforms
(ADR) from sworn affidavits submitted by candidates as part of their nomination
forms (as mandated by the Supreme Court) shows that in many constituencies
there are as many as six candidates with criminal cases against them in which
charges have been framed by a court of law. Data from the last two parliamentary
and UP state assembly elections is on the next page (see boxes).

Now to the disagreement. After the title question, Pandit gets into specifics and

asks three specific ones: (a) why should I vote? (b) 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; (c)
How has my blind faith in this current form of democracy made my life any
better?

There are two responses to (a), one positive and one negative. The positive
one is that if a citizen/voter does not vote, s/he forgoes the most fundamental right
and disregards the most fundamental duty of a citizen. As a well-known judge
of the US supreme court, Felix Frankfurter, said, “No job in the land is more important
than being a citizen.” If I do not vote, I am not doing my most important
duty as a citizen.

The negative response is that if I do not vote, I run the risk of my vote being misused
and cast for someone whom I may not want to vote for. This happens due to
fraudulent voting, particularly after 3 or 4 pm on the day of polling, and happens

despite the continuingly more and more efficient and strict arrangements for polling
made by the election commission and is not a comment on the election commission’s
arrangements. Dubious elements among the polling agents of various political
parties either in connivance with or by intimidating the polling officers, some
times get un-cast votes cast fraudulently.

So, by not participating in the voting, inadvertently, a citizen/voter is allowing
his/her vote being ‘used’ nefariously. The usual remedy for this is to use the provision
under Section 49(O) of the Conduct of Election Rules and say that I do not
want to vote for any of the candidates on the ballot or the EVM. It is true that a
lot of polling booth officials are not fully conversant with this rule and they have
to be informed of it by the voter, and that the voter has to sign her/his name
in a register and that such votes are not counted, but under the existing provisions,
this is the only thing that can be done. Attempts at getting a “none of the
above” button on the EVM are on; including a petition in the supreme court of
India but the outcome of these efforts is likely to take time.

The response to (b) has to be somewhat philosophical. However faulty the
election system in the country is, it has still provided the citizens a somewhat
effective functioning democracy. This becomes evident when we compare the
current state of the political systems in our neighbourhood or among the
countries that got independence around the same time as India. The survival
of democracy, in whatever form, with peaceful changes of government, and
whatever level of freedom of speech that India has, is the only one of its kind in
the post-colonial world. We can look at the glass as half full or as half empty…in
my personal opinion, it is more than half empty when we look at it as participating
citizens living in the country but it is half full when we look at it in comparison
with other countries in our neighbourhood or in the rest of the post-colonial
world.

The “more than half empty” bit takes us to the last question: “How has my blind
faith in this current form of democracy made my life any better?” This is a deep
question as it touches on matters of faith and forms of democracy. Firstly, I do not
believe in “blind” faith. If India is to take what some of us consider to be its rightful
place in the comity of nations, and in keeping with the aspirations of the
founding fathers of the country, then its citizens should not have “blind” faith and
beliefs but need to have faith and beliefs based on logic and rationale.

The second key statement here is “this current form of democracy”. The “current
form of democracy” is neither Godgiven nor etched in stone, and there is no
reason on earth that we, citizen/voters of India, should have either “blind faith”
or even plain and simple faith in it. We must do all we can to give ourselves the
form of democracy that is appropriate for us.

We have been guilty of forgetting the famous saying, “War is too serious a business
to be left only to the generals” and leaving politics only to politicians. It is
our politicians who have, over a period of time, distorted the form of democracy
that was intended, by making political parties, the basic unit of a representative
democracy such as ours, completely undemocratic in their internal functioning.
The phrase “inner party democracy” is often used these days and political
parties respond by brazenly saying that they do have inner party democracy. It
needs to be understood that “inner party democracy” does not mean “unanimous
election” after bargains have been struck behind closed doors, or unanimous
authorization of the so-called high command to nominate a chief minister,
or even the high command or a nominated committee choosing candidates for
contesting elections. These are various manifestations of the “current form of
democracy”.

What we need is actually functioning internal democracy in political parties
where members of a party will also choose the candidate who should contest
the election on behalf of their party, from a constituency, in a transparently democratic
process – transparent not only to the satraps of the party but also to its
membership and to the media and the general pubic. That will be the first level
of democratic functioning. 

The second level of democratic functioning will be when such democratically
elected candidates will contest the election for the state assembly or the
parliament. It is then that we will have true representatives of the people in the
legislatures and not the hangers-on of political bigwigs. This multiple level, functioning
democracy will also eliminate the need for spending hoards of unaccounted
money during the elections, thus generating bulk of black money in the
country simply because candidates will be known to the people who are required
to vote for them. \

So, my response to all right thinking and concerned citizens such as Swaroop
Pandit is to work towards an appropriate form of democracy by (a) voting their
disagreement with the “current form of democracy”, and (b) visibly supporting
efforts being made to work towards an appropriate form of democracy. I am
afraid not voting or opting out of the systems will only prove the old adage:
The price good people will pay for not getting involved, is to be governed by
bad people.

Chhokar, a former dean of IIM, Ahmedabad, is a founder of Association for Democratic
Reforms and National Election Watch

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    This blog contains Jagdeep S. Chhokar’s views, opinions, and comments on variety of issues.

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