The biggest celebration of democracy is here. In Hindi, it’s called the ‘mahaparv’. General election is an opportunity for people, who matter the most in a democracy, to use their right to choose the people who will make laws for them, and who will represent them in the Parliament. People often crib about the politicians but don’t go out to choose them. If you are among that breed, remember it is now that you can actually change the leaders you don’t like. Cribbing is easy but casting your vote to choose the government is easier.
Politics is the favourite topic of discussion in most Indian living rooms but the voter turnout has never been high, indicating a general insouciance in the political system. Between the first general election in 1951 and 2014, the average turnout has been 58%, which means only a little more than half the electorate exercised their right to vote.
If we still curse the politicians and blame them for the ills in our society, we are wrong. The blame is on us, the ones who don’t vote, fair and square. Also, it is a question on the wisdom of the 58% who voted and chose their representative.
For many years, there was no alternative if you didn’t like any of the candidates but now there’s the option of NOTA (none of the above) but that, too, serves no purpose. In a democracy, the candidate who gets the maximum votes wins, irrespective of how many people voted. So even though only 58% of voters participated in electoral process for 63 years (1951 to 2014), Members of Parliament (MPs) were elected and governments were formed.
We find faults with governments but don’t go out to vote, the weapon that we have against the same government. The highest turnout in Independent India was in 2014 when the country had a wave election. More than 66% of voters found a new hope in Narendra Modi and voted for him decisively. For the first time since 1984, a single political party got the absolute majority in the house of 543 members. In 1984, in the back of assassination of Indira Gandhi by her security guards, Congress won 404 seats, highest that any party has won ever. In 2014, the number was not that high but Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) did get past the majority mark of 272 with 10 MPs to spare.
Let’s cross the 2014 turnout number this April-May and make a new record. The more the turnout the more participative Indian democracy will become. The onus is most on the first-time voters. In 2014, there were 23 million first-time voters. This time, there are 15 million but if all of these step out on the voting day in their respective constituencies and cast their vote, India could well make a new record in voter turnout.
For last few elections, the Election Commission of India (ECI) through the district election officers (DEOs) has run special programmes to increase voter turnout. People have become more aware about their right. The numbers in the urban areas were always dismal. That has improved dramatically. Scan through queues of voters outside any polling booth in any election and you will find a lot of young faces eagerly waiting for their chance to cast their vote. This time, the ECI has set a target of 75%.
Together, we can make that happen. Let’s do it – for our democracy.
Once the turnout is achieved, the second challenge is to choose wisely. It is not important whether the person seeking your vote is educated or not – our forefathers didn’t think educational qualification was required for a person to be a public representative – what is important is what issues he or she is contesting on.
Caste has been the biggest bane of our democracy. Whether we are educated or illiterate, urban or rural, when we decide to vote for someone, caste is on top of the list. We talk about roads, electricity, civic amenities, economy, jobs, rural distress, migration from villages to cities, and so on but when we need to choose a person who will solve these, we settle for caste. Does he belong to my caste? Does he belong to my religion?
The voter today is exposed to a deluge of information. There’s internet to check and crosscheck claims and realities. Be aware and choose wisely. So that when on May 23 the electronic voting machines (EVMs) give the results of the two-month-long process, no one is cribbing.
What’s new this election
- 100% paper trail of votes cast. VVPATs to print out details of vote cast, allowing voter to check if the vote has indeed been recorded in favour of his or her chosen candidate before it falls into the printer drop-box
- One polling station in every Assembly segment where all staff are women. This all-woman station will be for women voters
- All EVMs (electronic voting machines) to sport photo ballot labels, apart from symbol and candidate name in Braille
- GPS tracking of all EVM along with flying squads
- Parties are require to advertise criminal history of candidates in media
In Rajasthan, there are 25 Lok Sabha seats, each having 8 Assembly segments. The state will go to poll in two phases – polling in 13 constituencies will be held on April 29 (phase 4) and the remaining 12 will go to poll on May 6 (phase 5). Counting across the country will be held on May 23.