The Excitement of Voting for the first time in 47 years,
The New Indian Express, (Chennai), 11 May 2009, Monday
Over the years, one has acquired the indifference that plagues middle class Indians. They are eloquent on the virtues of democracy and its importance as the only political option for an inherently diverse nation
Only the previous night Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared internal emergency. Don’t talk politics, my mother said and woke up the political animal inside me. Since then commented on many elections and offered unsolicited political advice but never voted in the elections.
So the excitement was real. Was there at the nearby polling booth more than half an hour before voting began.
There were more security personnel than voters. Definitely no queues.
Only one political party had organised their polling agents while members of another party were just arriving when I came out the booth.
For over two decades, on the election day I was at the wrong time or wrong place. If both were right, then my chaotic planning or sheer un-preparedness kept me away. Skipped many elections, Lok Sabha as well as state Assembly elections. Both in Tamil Nadu and later in New Delhi. There was a perennial conflict of interest between the place where I am registered a voter and place of my presence on the election day.
This was in contrast to my experience in Israel. By sheer accident since July 1988 I found myself in Israel on many election days. Eagerly watched many unfolding dramas and was there in Jerusalem just a few days before Ariel Sharon was elected as prime minister in February 2001. The most memorable was the first direct election for prime minister held in May 1996. Peacefully went to bed after exit polls gave a clear edge to Labour leader Shimon Peres. When I woke up in the morning I was greeted by Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu on the TV screen. The Oslo process was buried among the ruins of the Labour party.
Over the years, one has acquired the indifference that plagues middle class Indians. They are eloquent on the virtues of democracy and its importance as the only political option for an inherently diverse Indian nation. Their theme song? Larger and more diverse than Europe the Indian survival rests on democracy. This commitment is rarely translated into concrete action. They never voted with their feet. Like many members of my tribe, I am guilty of electing bad people by not voting. Minor foresight and planning could have synchronised the seemingly endless conflict between polling date and residence. If both were right, then systemic problems of India came handy. Not finding one’s name in the voters’ list is not uncommon among many serious people.
How often one hears: My name is in my hometown. That is after living for many years in New Delhi. For them a few minutes of paperwork are a ‘waste’ of time.
With voters’ list just a click away, netizens like me, are the worst offenders.
True the system is inefficient. After searching various lists put out by the chief electoral officer of the capital, I eventually found my name. Not surprisingly it was bifurcated; Kumar Swamy and not Kumaraswamy. But it was there. The joy was boundless.
The excitement of voting was palpable and I checked out a few of friends, colleagues and long acquaintances. None have voted and most could not. Either they are out of town or their names are missing in the voters’ list. In the end my vote might not make any difference. It won’t materially affect the condition of the teeming millions. Or worse, before long I might regret my choice.
As I walked back from the polling booth, the feeling was strange but real.
A sense of lightness. Next time around when I use words such as elections, democracy or accountability, they would be less hallow than yesterday.
At least for myself.
(The writer teaches at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi)