My friends Nandu suggested I share my views about the Indian elections with others. I am allergic to politics, though I have voted in every election since I became eligible to vote. Maybe I am allergic to politicians! I don’t know; I am confused. Democracy is a necessity of our lives like Roti, Kapda and Makan (Now the latest additions to the need are cell phone and internet!), i.e. Food, Clothing and Home! (For my non-Indian friends!)
Why did I give the title, Tango – the Elections! Meaning of Tango is a ballroom dance originating in Buenos Aires, characterised by marked rhythms and postures and abrupt pauses. In a democracy we expect the ruling and opposition parties to perform the Tango, sharing their views of how to run the country; but our politicians have gone for the last part of the definition, “abrupt pauses”. They take abrupt pauses, change directions, from gentlemanly behaviour switch to use of nonsensical use of language. The attacks this time have become personal, and it appears that there is no end to it! Bad words are used against very senior leaders, Chief Ministers and Prime Ministers. What direction are we taking? There was a verbal diatribe on a lady candidate, below the belt, literally! No pun intended!
When I was in school, India had become independent, and people were thrilled to be allowed to vote. Democracy continues very successfully. (Except for a hitch in 1975) India has adopted electronic voting ahead of all the countries in a big way. We don’t use ballot papers.
I read a story told by Chidanand Rajghatta, TOI US correspondent. He was called in a University to speak about modern election systems in India. At the end of his speech, he was asked to advise the Americans. He said (tongue in cheek), “Outsource elections to India”! There were huge claps all around!
The voting method is where all confusion starts. When parties win elections using the current process, they are ok with the technique. But when they lose the elections, the same method is declared as the vilest system. It gets challenged in the Supreme Court- they have promptly thrown out the petition. Parties catch hold of some engineers who are supporters of that party. These engineers make a big drama of how hacking is simple etc. To overcome such issues, sometime back Election Commission declared a date on which all the parties could come together and prove to EC, how hacking could be done. Not even one political party registered for the event. We make millions of financial, purchasing transactions electronically. Passport system in India is entirely electronic. In India, Visa on arrival is given electronically. But our politicians periodically challenge the electronic process, as an election stunt!
Another issue that is seen this time is the defection from parties. It is on the rise and shows that people are only interested in standing for elections and not working for the party. The usual sprinkling of cine stars is there, and a retired cricketer has also joined the fray.
Another significant change, to worse, is attacking the independent institutions. Decisions given by Election Commission received comments that it is working for the ruling party. Similarly, Supreme Court judgments were twisted to make claims that suit the arguments of the parties. Supreme Court took these people to the task, is a different issue, but such twisted statements waste the time of the Supreme Court.
One state that has galloped ahead of others in “reforms” is West Bengal. Many summers ago, Gopal Krishna Gokhale had said, “What Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow.” Bengal is the land of Rabindra Nath Tagore, Swami Vivekanand, Netaji Subhashchandra Bose; it is the Bhadralok (prosperous and educated people), Calcutta was India’s capital at the time of British in the initial phase. All industries started in Bengal first.
The article in India Today tells us about the anarchy in Bengal. It is titled, “How to rig elections, Bengal style”! I will not go into details as the report covers what is happening today in Bengal during this election. It will suffice to say that the Election Commission acted “Suo Moto” or on its own and disallowed election campaign meetings on a day before the last day, to prevent further anarchy. The indication of such a situation was seen for many years. During the change of government last time, there were attacks and murder galore which continued all through. Shifting of Tata Nano factory to Gujarat was the clearcut signal to the powers that be! But they were too busy appeasing their electorate, and god knows who! I hope India does not start thinking like Bengal, in future!
Another first in this election is that none of the experts can predict anything. No waves are seen, no indication is seen from any patterns in voting. The voter is the ultimate God, who does not talk to anyone. As usual, the caste, religion equations are being discussed, but nobody can come to any conclusion. Most crucial conclusion every expert is saying is that an unstable government will bring chaos to India, but it appears that the opposition may not be able to form a stable government.
In large cities like Pune and Bangalore, voting % seems much lower than most other places. These two cities are cosmopolitan, and the migratory population is very high because of the easy availability of work. The community is young, and for both towns, the voting day created a long weekend. People went away on holiday. Plus transient nature did not allow people to change their voting location from their original city to the adopted city. Times of India has started a new slogan, “Let your vote travel with you”! In days of internet and computers, people should be able “to carry their vote” with them to where they are staying. Technologically it is possible, but the Election Commission needs to change its laws and people should be educated to change their thinking. This change can be connected to something straightforward and doable. For example, if you file your IT reruns from a city A, this can be shared with the Election Commission to change your place of voting. It is just a way it can be done, but it is doable.
What can be done about the criminal records of candidates? Our laws need to tighten further. Another observation is that many candidates become very rich in between two elections. Most of these people never go to the office like you and me; they are not known to have businesses, but where does the wealth come from?
I have discussed mainly systems in Indian elections. One more thing that needs to be tackled is why not hold national as well as state elections at the same time. It will save a lot of costs. Last national election cost Rs.3800/ crores i.e. US $ 0.5/ billion, in 2014! We can assume a 20% increase in five years. If both elections are held together, there will be substantial cost savings. But somehow many political parties are against this. Probably this the cost of democracy!
All said and done, warts and all, we all should be proud of the democratic process India is following. Voting this time is done in seven rounds; these many rounds are needed to manage logistics! After all, we have states like Bengal leading the nation!