A Balloting Act
By Vanika Rakshit | Staff Writer
With a population of over a billion, India is the world’s largest democracy and accounts for 17.5% of the world population. This means that out of 196 countries in the world, India has the largest system of government where all of its citizens are either directly or indirectly a part of the decision making process. Our electoral process should be a point of pride, but unfortunately it isn’t.
The importance of elections in India has become increasingly evident only over the last decade as we observed the highest voter turnout in Indian history during the Lok Sabha election of 2014. Although voter indifference is declining on a national scale, there still hasn’t been any observable change in the blatant disregard for state legislative elections.
Our constitution provides a certain degree of autonomy to all state governments in making decisions pertaining to the growth and development of the state, it is then subjective to the government in power to utilize this in a resourceful manner. However it is surprising that the state legislative elections are grossly understated where it should matter the most i.e. among the national houses of Parliament . It is through the state legislative assemblies that members are elected to the upper house of the Parliament. To put it in context, a majority in both houses of Parliament is a requirement for a Bill to become an Act. If we take our current government as an example, the lack of a majority in the Upper House acts as an effective roadblock to non money bills such as the Land Acquisition Bill.
Despite their importance, state elections are mostly ignored by the majority of the population. A consequence of this indifference is the digression of the electoral process to which the Bihar polls proved to be a perfect example. Instead of politicians focusing on important issues like poverty, illiteracy and empowerment, the entire process was reduced to a series of verbal bashing between contesting parties consequentially giving birth to factually incorrect statements. This problem isn’t limited to a few; most political parties have a tendency to make large promises failing to indicate how they intend to deliver. Whether it is a manifesto that promises Bihar’s leap into redemption if the Grand Alliance comes to power or the BJP’s promise of 5000 scooters for meritorious girls, as well as laptops for Dalit families. One should question the relevance of such promises considering over 40% of the population of Bihar lives below the poverty line. While empty promises in the midst of an election may rouse a crowd, the failure to deliver on it is only perceived by its electorate.
In recent months, campaigning activities have not spared religion and caste. With the adjunction of communal tension looming in the backdrop, politicians have attempted to wield it in their favor to merely score points on the ballot.
Statements made by BJP Chief Amit Shah such as, “Friends remember, if by mistake BJP loses here and Nitish-Lalu win, the results will be announced in Patna, but firecrackers will go off in Pakistan.” or “The forthcoming assembly polls is going to be a direct contest between those, who justify beef eating and those seeking effective ban on cow slaughter” by Sushil Kumar Modi undermines the elections that directly affect thousands of people and hinders the socio- economic growth of an entire region while unscrupulously invoking the religion of the majority.
While ‘electoral freebies’ are an accepted part of the process, another tactic that is frequented is buying votes. India’s election authorities confiscated $55 million in cash along with large amounts of liquor and illegal drugs–the largest quantities in Indian electoral history during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. A large percentage of the economically weaker sections of society are susceptible to this. The criminalization of politics, is an issue we tend to overlook as well, with a whopping 174 candidates in Bihar that had criminal cases pending against them. The truth is that there will be no benefits to reap from a government that has to buy itself into the parliament.
The blame cannot be lain reductively on the shoulders of politicians. According to the World Bank “India will soon have the largest and youngest workforce the world has ever seen”. This would mean that the current generation of college students and graduates alike will be the vast majority our elected officials are answerable to. It is our prerogative to demand reform when we no longer see our country headed to a place we would be proud to call our own. We forget that accountability is one of the pillars of a democratic country so we let it go when elected officials act or behave against our interests. It is their duty to represent the diverse cultures and faiths in India with equal dedication and effort as it is ours to be a well informed electorate and raise our voices when they fail to do theirs. While the progress on this front is slow, it is steady. As the Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, acknowledged that, ”some irresponsible statements, changed the narrative of the Bihar polls”, the outcome of the Bihar elections, tells us that the country does not wish to be divided on communal lines.