Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber. ~Plato
My sister in a call centre in India was trained by an American trainer, who mischievously explained to the bunch of young people that an average American has an IQ of a 14-year-old Indian school-going kid. Does that make you feel proud? Me too.
Indians are relatively smarter people; give a lot of emphasis to education and family values. India is a country of intelligent, God-fearing, law-abiding, family-oriented people. Or is it? A mere glimpse at the state of affairs in the country convinces me to the contrary — 11 children lost every hour; 1 rape reported every 22 mins; if corruption was an Olympic sport, India would win more medals than all the other countries put together; crime rate up by 25 per cent in the past 12 years….I am already too depressed to enumerate further.
The obvious question is what is the reason for this deplorable state of affairs? Ask any knowledgeable Indian and the reply – our politicians continue to fail the hardworking population. But wait… isn’t India world’s largest democracy, where people choose leaders to represent them by the process of voting. So why would 1.2 billion resilient people from the world’s oldest civilisation choose criminals, inefficient, corrupt and dishonest to represent them. It is as if the same law-abiding citizen, when going to vote suddenly blacks out and votes for a candidate with a resume that can put Charles Shobraj to shame. The answer is NO, it’s not the people who vote that elect the government in India but the people who do not vote. They unknowingly become responsible for undeserving candidates winning elections. The result is criminals become law-makers, the corrupt become custodians and the indecorous summon morality.
Let me explain this further. In order to understand the effect of the non-voting population, let’s analyse the voting statistics of the 2009 general election. The total voter turnout was approximately 58 per cent. In an average constituency, there are about four or five candidates and at least two from major political parties of that region or of the country. Often the difference between the winning candidate and main opposing candidate is a threadbare – three to seven per cent of the total votes cast. If the voting percentage is higher or if more people vote, the same result could have swung in a very different way. So did the 2009 elections actually represent the wishes of the majority, when in reality 42 per cent of the voters were absent.
There have been 15 general elections from 1952–2009 in India and the voter turnout has been between 56–62%. For most winning candidates, it’s just a matter of pulling through the win by a few thousands votes. And to do this they shamelessly cater to a small sub-section of caste (Jat Kurmi, Ahir, Dhimar etc) creating identities and dividing the society. This trend began in the 1990s, when a new generation of leaders found the short-cut to victory — Identity Politics. When the majority is too busy to vote and the game has to be played within a narrow slice of rural and urban poor, illiterate masses, the process goes like this — create an identity within, play with emotions, pocket votes and disappear until the next election, only to repeat the process.
So has the world’s largest democracy ever had a government actually endorsed by the majority? The numbers do not say so. In general, a large proportion of the poor, illiterate and disadvantaged population is the regular voter, which the ‘netas’ want to lure for obvious reasons. However, the scholarly and cultured stay away from the ‘pedestrian’ and ‘unbefitting’ mess of politics, so they become futile and worthless for political class. In the process, the issues relevant to the ‘willing to vote’ but ignorant population gets highlighted by politicos and the real accountability, which can be exercised by the empowered educated middle class is not exercised due to apathy of the same. Issues like corruption, crime and growth are ignored because the poor population does not understand them or have the insight, education and training to correlate them. They do not have the audacity to question the political hopefuls, still reeling under the colonial mindset that leaders are chosen to rule and not serve. So should we actually blame the politicians if they treat their largely poor and illiterate electorate like cattle for five years only to endow a few weeks of importance during canvassing. Politicians understand the language of the vote and educated people prefer to keep quiet. The responsibility of an able, educated and empowered population is to question the political class, to instil fear of accountability and consequence, but they dither away from playing the all-important part. And as a result we end up with undeserving people playing the most important role in shaping the future of our country and generations to come.
If the 300 million strong and growing educated, upwardly mobile middle class starts questioning their leaders, the real issues like corruption, crime and growth would replace junk issues like caste and religion in the elections.
Political parties would be forced to address real issues and money and muscle power would lose their significance. All the other tools like bogus voting, caste cards, appeasement, freebies, pre-election liquor supply can become ineffective, if the people who matter also start caring. If we are able to convince ourselves that we not only deserve but can get good governance, things would change. Only if we could say ‘Yes I care’, instead of saying ‘who cares??’
A good government would eventually mean that the poor and illiterate would be the ever-shrinking population. They would become capable of taking the responsibility, understanding the issues and voting for good candidates. India Against Corruption movement, Lok Shakti Party and Aam Aadmi Party are training grounds for general electorate — they aim to change the mindset of poorest of voters, so they are capable enough to vote for good candidates and India gets what it rightfully deserves. This can also be achieved by mobilising middle and upper middle class voters to vote and vote for right reasons.
In democracy, good people (read: God-fearing law-abiding Indian citizens) get good government, but this is certainly not the case in India. The gap between good quality voters vis-a-vis bad quality leaders is quite unlike the inherent nature of democracy. A good electorate deserves good government, going by simple logic that good voters would vote for good candidates, but our Parliament and assemblies are filled with members of criminal background, there are rapists, murderers, kidnappers, hoarders and the resumes are too impressive to discuss in detail. This has to change in the upcoming 2014 general elections, where Indians must vote, not only to have a government but to have a dignified life and future for our kids.
So in the next election, if you do not have ink on your finger, keep that finger on your lips and ‘Shut Up’ for the next five years. Do not open your mouth to discuss issues sitting on your couch. It’s electoral democracy not couch democracy.