Just after the 2004 elections, we undertook an exercise to verify Bangalore’s voter rolls, with the support of the Election Commission. Astonishingly, the error rates exceeded 50 per cent. Voter list errors are of two kinds: omission and commission, ie, names that ought to be there but are not, and names that ought not to be there but are still on the rolls.
These errors are lethal for democracy, causing electoral systems to get hijacked by corrupt politicians who then use the “legitimacy” that elections confer to take over the offices of government for private gain.
Visualise the map of India as made of 700,000 small pieces, like parts of a jigsaw puzzle. This is India’s democratic map: each piece is a tiny area and has a formal list (called a PART) of all the voters in that area, no more than 1,000-1,500 voters. Taken together, these parts cover every square foot of the country. A part is the smallest atomic unit of our political structure: a corporator ward, an Assembly or Parliament constituency is nothing more than a collection of these parts, of differing sizes. Mumbai has about 7,000 such parts, Delhi about 8,000.
It’s hard to imagine the overall system getting cleansed without these parts getting cleaned. It’s also easy to see this happen at a grassroots level, since the numbers in each part are so small.
This requires an awakened citizenry. Because, despite the outstanding efforts of the Election Commission, no force from within the system by itself can fix the problem.
The ‘Jaagore One Billion Votes’ campaign is about enabling people — especially the youth — to start the process by getting registered as voters in their own parts. It’s an ambitious campaign, one that is completely conceived and implemented by the youth — all catalysed by a remarkable young IIT graduate who gave up his career to make a difference.
The campaign is off to an outstanding start, with over 2 lakh registrations. But this is just one tiny step. We have large plans for the campaign. But these are insignificant compared to the plans that the people themselves have.
(Ramesh Ramanathan, Co-founder, Janaagraha Centre for Citizenship & Democracy; former banker in New York and London)