‘Who are you going to vote for?’ The inevitable question one hears everywhere masks the actual one: ‘Who do you think I should vote for?’ It is an unenviable choice. The Hindu Rashtra, machismo and a promise of ‘development’, erratic socialism scarred by repeated indecisiveness and malfeasance that have deemed to have doomed the economy, and a ‘root-out-corruption-through-power-to-the-people’ platform that has very little to show in its favour thus far. And yet vote one must. Everywhere one hears about a few issues that are said to have appeared upfront and centre of the urban voters’ minds — corruption, inflation, women’s rights and ‘development’.
We are being told it will be these issues that urban India is going to use as a litmus test before casting its ballot. Really? How are these issues going to differentiate one political party from another? Last I looked, all the major parties have sworn to root out corruption, bring inflation down to reasonable levels, believe in women’s rights and are committed to ‘development’. How then to choose one party over another? In fact a comparison of the manifestos of the Congress, BJP and AAP reveals points of difference too few and too fine to sway a decision one way or the other. So now what?
In my opinion it boils down to the one question every Indian must ask herself or himself in this election, more urgently than in all other previous elections: What kind of an India do you want for yourself? What India do you want your children to grow up in? It is when you ask this question and look at the choices offered through this lens that clearer options emerge. An India where Hindus are tacitly acknowledged as the foremost group of Indians, where the Constitution will be artfully subverted to keep the Hindu interest foremost in mind, a country that will tolerate the presence of Indians of other religions as long as they submit to this belief?
Or would you prefer an India that resembles the foundational idea of India, (an idea adopted without a referendum, mind you) of a country that strives to discriminate between none, seeks to provides equal opportunity for all, has laws in place to protect every citizen — a noble ideal that remains a distant dream at best and a failed experiment at worst. Or then an India where people take charge of their lives, their neighbourhoods, their communities, through referenda, discussion and debate, with the risk of chaos, stasis and, in the worst case, anarchy. Which of these Indias comes closest to your ideal?
Let’s make things a little more tangible by going back to the issues of corruption, inflation and women’s rights. What corruption does a party refer to when it says it will fight it — only financial corruption or does it include moral corruption? Is it okay to target minorities while tomtomming your financial honesty? What does a party mean by saying it supports women’s rights? Is it okay to walk into women’s homes and degrade them without following due process of law? On what basis does a party claim it will keep inflation down to reasonable levels? Its track record? In what time frame? Aren’t 10 years enough? And, reasonable levels for whom? Only for the rural poor? What about the urban poor? The lower middle class?
I said earlier it is this election more than any other in which the question ‘what India do you want to live in’ takes on the greatest significance because your answer will crystallise your ideology, make you an active contributor to the future shape of India. For too long have we voted for things any every self-respecting political party regardless of its manifesto should promise: roti, kapda, makaan, bijli, sadak, paani, and this time, ‘development’, zero tolerance of corruption, lowering the cost of living and giving women equal rights. But it is ideology and only ideology that will guide you to the party whose ideology best mirrors yours. Because if you don’t have an ideology you are going to vote for meaningless promises like ‘stability’, ‘good governance’ — the surest path to disillusionment and apathy.
So what kind of India do I want? I am looking for a party that will treat all Indians, of all genders, of all castes, of all religions, equally. That will not necessarily obey, but respect every Indian’s voice, that will speak to us, share with us, listen to us. A party that will give me some belief that I matter to India. That will not treat the poorest of the poor as a vote bank but give them dignity, work, food, a part to play in the country’s future. That understands that development is less about making the Sensex soar and much more about developing a better life for all Indians — better education for our children, better job opportunities for our youth, clean air, clean water, gardens, grounds, free museums, art and culture on our streets for our families, a life of respect and peace for our aged. A party that will admit its mistakes and vow to be better, that will never lie to us or the world outside. A party whose leaders will, months after the elections, go back into the countryside and passionately campaign for no votes, no seats, no power — simply travel for a love of this land, its people, its soil, its music, its food, its sky. That’s the India I want. The party that comes closest to this, or more realistically, least furthest from this, is the party I will vote for. Your turn.
Rahul Bose, well-known actor and activist, has campaigned for over a decade on issues of gender and social justice
The views expressed by the authors are personal