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Monday, Oct 14, 2019

2019 polls: Think hard, really hard, before you vote

Mumbai’s character and geography makes voting an even more absorbing exercise

mumbai Updated: Mar 14, 2019 00:01 IST
Smruti Koppikar
Smruti Koppikar
Hindustan Times
Mumbaiites have reasons for voting, from the lofty to the banal.
Mumbaiites have reasons for voting, from the lofty to the banal. (HT File photo)

Election time makes for interesting conversations and insights into why voters cast their ballot – or not. In words and in between lines, they let on about how they make up their mind on candidates, what issues or concerns drive them, if their voting is guided by rational decisions or emotional impulses and so on.

Mumbai’s character and geography make this an even more absorbing exercise.

In 2014, Mumbai’s voters recorded a relatively impressive 53%, the highest in 25 years. It was impressive because the city’s turnout has been worrisome for psephologists and politicians; it usually hovered around 40% to 45% for Lok Sabha elections. In 1989, the election that was powered by the Bofors corruption scandal and the urge to show Rajiv Gandhi government out saw Bombay register 55% turnout. Will that be repeated with Rafale this time?

The most disappointing turnout was in 2009. Mumbaiites were voting barely four months after the city had been shaken to its core in the 26/11 terror attacks. The sentiment on the streets through December 2008 and thereafter was dominated by an urgency to do something, anything, for the city and the country.

A spontaneous gathering of lakhs of citizens at the Gateway of India within a week of the attack saw rage at the political establishment and India’s counter-terror measures.

Groups were set up to mobilise voters, non-political personalities got involved in the mobilisation. “Vote out this (Dr Manmohan Singh) government” echoed across the city. Yet, on voting day in April 2009, only 41% voters had turned up at polling stations.

That sentiment was stronger five years later. Voters seemed eager to believe in the new politics and hope that Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi was promising. His persona, voter connect, and carefully-calibrated speeches coupled with the BJP’s blitzkrieg in the media and through (manipulative) social media saw the mood turn handsomely into votes. Who did not want “achhe din”? So what if they came wrapping a particularly divisive, non-inclusive philosophy?

Mumbaiites have reasons for voting, from the lofty to the banal. Some want to exercise their Constitutional right; others want to do their bit in the world’s largest mela of democracy. Many are driven by what neighbourhood political bosses promise them – regularisation of homes, admissions to schools, even a great biryani dinner to saree-suit packages when the Election Commission is not looking.

Then again, Mumbaiites have excuses to not vote, from the principled to the prosaic. Some find all candidates worthless. The most common excuse is to treat the voting day as a holiday, taking a well-deserved break from the punishing and relentless cycle of life in the city.

If voting is scheduled on a Friday or a Monday – as it is this April 29 – it makes for a tempting long weekend.

In 2009, the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party bagged all the six Lok Sabha seats in Mumbai. In 2014, the BJP-Sena returned the compliment. This time, election conversations flow along two lines. One, Modi and the BJP must get a second chance because five years is too short a time to do all good work, never mind that he had asked for 60 months in 2014.

Two, anyone but Modi-BJP because the “achhe din” was a smokescreen for other agendas and life is no better than it was five years ago.

The voter turnout on April 29 will give us some pointers about which thought prevails. A high or higher turnout usually indicates that voters chose to change.

Mumbai is also home to 37 billionaires with a total net worth of USD 184.4 billion, according to the Forbes list this year. Individually and collectively, through electoral bonds and other support to parties, they determine political trajectories in ways that most voters would not know. Their choices, like their votes, are important.

For the rest of us, the vote is all we have. Why will you vote for the one you do? Think hard, really hard, this time.

First Published: Mar 14, 2019 00:01 IST

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