I’m still unsure about whether I’ll step out in the sun to vote on May 7. Would I have been more inclined to step out in the moon? I think so. But who’s going to burn all those extra megawatts so that sweaty slackers like me can be useful to the nation and feel less uncomfortable?
The truth is that a sizeable chunk of the electorate is unlikely to come out and vote over the next two weeks. This is obviously not because they have an ideological problem about parliamentary democracy of the kind that bothers many of our friends in the Gulf and thereabouts, or about having that nice-sounding excuse of ‘not having a choice’. It’s simply because coming out to line up in this heat, and then press on a voting machine that looks like the Casio synthesiser your parents gave you on your 16th birthday, may not be really worth the effort. Sipping a tall glass of Rooh Afzah at home? Keeping Mayawati from becoming PM? I think we have a winner. In any case, where’s the fun in a dehydrating visit to the polling booth?
Did I just see you flinch with righteous horror when I mentioned ‘fun’? Did you just roll out a chuckle at my elitist priorities? Well, of course you will remind me that it is the vote alone that makes every Indian a precious client of every streetwalking political party. The vote, you will say for good measure, is the usually powerless aam admi’s only weapon. Sure. But doesn’t everyone have his own comfort level of coming out to vote? So what if mine is cooler weather and someone’s in Chhattisgarh or Kashmir is coming back from the voting station unscathed?
In mid-80s Calcutta, I would wonder why ant-lines of people wearing paper caps with party insignias would walk miles towards the Brigade Rally ground in the centre of the city in the blazing heat to register some protest or show of strength. It turned out that along with a bit of ideological kinship, a cardboard lunchbox containing one boiled egg, one banana, one sandesh — and if they were lucky — one small packet of biscuits was enough to get thousands of people from various parts of West Bengal to come out and join a parade in the sweltering, dripping heat. It was part-ragtag Nuremberg rally, part mass-picnic excursion to the big city, all expenses paid by the party. Today I also wonder how a lazy, ultra-sensitive soul like me spent so many hours every day of my formative years playing in the baking sun. The answer is simple. Because I had a very strong incentive to overcome any climatic discomfort: to have fun.
With the voter’s job being different from that of a rent-a-rallyist and very different from that of a teenage mohalla footballer (playing cricket never required much energy), one would think that all that’s required to come out and vote is a sense of citizen’s duty. But with temperatures rising way above the pitch of Amar Singh’s voice, I suspect some sort of incentive beyond nation-building is required for many Indians on the voters’ list.
Post-26/11 Mumbaikars, one would’ve thought, would come out in droves to vote, if for nothing but cathartic reasons. Uh-uh. A paltry 43.52 per cent voted, making you wonder what to make of all those candlelight vigils and angry young people waxing eloquent about civic outrage on national TV. Mumbai South, the g-spot of India’s articulate civil society, registered a 43.33 per cent turnout as polls were held a day before a Labour Day chhutti-induced elongated weekend.
Nationally, the poll turnout was only slightly better, with a little over half the country’s 144 million voters, in the third phase of elections on April 30, not bothering to vote. West Bengal, with its politicised atmosphere after Singur and Nandigram, and because of its strong cadre culture, was the only major state along with Karnataka — out of the nine that went to polls on Thursday — that saw more of its electorate come out and vote (64 and 57 per cent, respectively) than those who stayed away.
‘Narendra Modi or bust’ Gujarat had a 50 per cent turnout, while maker-breaker Uttar Pradesh registered 45 per cent. (While many surveys before the elections showed India’s boys and girls beaming at the thought of Rahul Gandhi as a future PM, only 40 per cent of voters in Amethi bothered to vote on April 23.)
Clearly, if the Election Commission was a company, it would’ve needed to quickly come up with a new PR strategy. Voting seems to be getting almost as unpopular as newspaper-reading. As a model citizen, I’m concerned. So I suggest that the grandees consider a humble proposal: conduct all future general elections not before October and not after March. If that proves to be impossible, draft the righteous lot, energised by sipping Tata Tea, to go door-to-door to register every Indian vote.
In any case, wake me up only after May 16 when the digression of voting ends and the real story of Election 2009 begins.