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Friday, Oct 18, 2019

Make a statement, go out and vote today

'If you don't vote, you don?t count' is the message People?s Action, an NGO, is trying to send out to over 50 per cent Delhiites who never cast their votes, writes Soni Sangwan.

india Updated: Dec 02, 2003 18:01 IST
Soni Sangwan
Soni Sangwan

The placards said it all — If you don't vote, you don’t count. It was a message that the NGO, People’s Action, were trying to send out to over 50 per cent Delhiites who never cast their votes. As Delhi goes to polls this morning, each party is hoping that the people of Delhi do not break the trend and only the expected 45-48 per cent come out to vote.

Their hopes are based on the simple arithmetic that candidates keep in mind while planning election strategy. According to political pundits, only about half the people who can vote actually do so. Among the 50 per cent population that votes, the two mainstream parties can claim a dedicated voter share of 20 per cent each. That leaves 10 per cent of the voters who are undecided — of these about 1 or 2 per cent votes are generally declared invalid (something that may change this time with the electronic voting machines). So in effect, the huge electoral drama and the battle for votes is only for about 8 per cent of the voters.

In such a situation it actually suits the political parties if people do not go out to vote. So, People’s Action is right when it says if you don’t vote, you don’t count. For democracy to become really relevant, it is essential that everyone exercises his or her franchise. And if you want to make a statement — for or against your sitting MLA or any party — you have to do it through your vote.

But interestingly, when it comes to making a choice, the voter is really at sea. Both the Congress and the BJP, despite their ideological differences, end up sounding exactly the same. A look at the Congress manifesto in 1998 reveals that the issues central to them at that time, when they were not in power were, the dengue outbreak, poor conditions of roads, garbage and poor water and power situation. The BJP manifesto in 2003, when they are hoping to throw the Congress out of power, also lambasts the Congress for identical failings — shortage of power and water, dengue, garbage and poor condition of roads.

So, in a situation where both parties appear to be two faces of the same coin, should you vote for the party or the candidate? Tough call. Since though we claim to be a vibrant democracy, is it really that easy for committed, independent candidates to contest an election individually and even if an independent does happen to win an election, can he or she really have much say in the assembly? Assemblies where brute majorities rule, past experience has shown, the parties in power do not even encourage their own MLAs’ attempts to bring in new legislation, preferring only government bills, what chance do independent MLAs have of being heard, of being able to make a difference? So here we are back where we started, should we vote for party or person?

Whatever your decision, there is still the possibility that the winning candidate may not actually be the true representative. With multiple candidates seeking the confidence of the voters, the person with the largest number wins. If the 100 votes that are at stake are divided between four contenders, the winner may be the candidate who polled as little as 26 per cent of the votes. And for the next five years, he or she gets to take decisions on behalf of the entire constituency. Is it any wonder then that politicians are nurturing vote banks and sectarian politics is on the rise?

The only way to beat all the political calculations and psephological predictions is to come out and vote in large numbers. If you do not use your right to vote as the Constitution meant you to, then after today, the politicians will continue to rule. But if you do use your vote in a responsible manner, then you will rule. At least for the next five years.

First Published: Dec 01, 2003 02:21 IST

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