As 814 million registered Indian voters have begun to exercise their right to vote this election, we must ask ourselves whether till now, our conduct has befitted that of citizens of the largest democracy in the world.
1. Criminals in politics
ADR (Association for Democratic Reforms) report says that 159 (30%) members of the last Lok Sobha had criminal cases against them. It is shocking to note that only 14% of the initial candidates who stood in the 2009 elections had criminal cases against them, while 30% of the candidates who eventually won the elections had such cases registered against them. Being a criminal seems to be almost a necessary qualification to win an election in India.Even this time, 18% of the candidates in the fray have criminal charges against them. Political parties across the board have fielded such candidates in large numbers. Why is it that criminals have repeatedly won elections in India?
2. Caste and money based voting
Indian voters can be easily bought off with offers of cash and kind, and caste plays a predominant role in the final choice of whom to vote for. In the process, we end up sending corrupt criminals to the Parliament to represent us.
3. Poor voter turnout
The typical turnout for an Indian election is around 60%. So where are the remaining 40% of the electorate? I have heard people complaining about having to wait in long queues in the heat to put in their votes. Are you saying that you are not prepared to subject yourself to a little bit of discomfort and a slight overdose of vitamin D once in five years for your country?Â Some people argue that one vote makes no difference. Are you saying that you will wait till the rest of the country falls in line before doing your duty? How will you like it if you go to a government office and the lowest rung officer refuses to forward your request saying that higher rung officers are corrupt in any case and forwarding the request won’t make any difference at all?
Others argue that they do not support any of the candidates on view and hence do not want to vote. Until recently Rule 49-O allowed a voter to turn up at the polling booth and record the fact that he or she is not casting a vote. But a September 2013 Supreme Court ruling asking the Election Commission to replace Rule 49-O with NOTA (None of the Above) has made it so much more convenient to reject all candidates on view, without your identity having to be revealed, unlike in 49-O.Â It is true that NOTA has not yet been linked to disqualification of candidates in cases where it gets the highest number of votes. The first step towards pushing for that reform is to ensure that NOTA garners the highest number of votes in multiple constituencies. Otherwise, the politicians will continue to get away saying that people are not using NOTA anywhere and therefore a disqualification clause is unnecessary. If you chose to not vote, in spite of having a NOTA option, you are as good as endorsing the candidates who eventually get elected.
5.Â Being informed
Not only is voting an important duty, understanding and learning about your candidates before casting your vote also is. In the age of RTI and the internet, this is not so difficult any more. Created by ADR,Â myneta.info, has collated the information about all the candidates that they themselves declare during the nomination process. This includes details of their educational qualification, total assets and criminal cases charged against them. (HereÂ is an example of the candidates’ information that I pulled out for my constituency of Thrissur in Kerala.)
6. First-class or third-class?
In a democracy, people get the kind of government they deserve. Corrupt and criminal politicians ending up in Parliament is solely our responsibility and the blame for this can lie at no one else’s door but ours alone. In fact, we have in no way proven that we are any less corrupt or any more worthy than the politicians we never cease to criticize. Yes, we deserve better, but for that we need to behave better.Â Recently, Arvind Kejriwal said that Indians are first-class citizens who are victims of third-class governance. I beg to differ. Neither through intent nor through deed have the Indian voters demonstrated that they are first-class citizens of any order. We either don’t turn up to vote at all, and when we do, we sell our votes to the corrupt, vote undeserving people on the basis of caste and keep re-electing criminals to the Parliament. We have proven ourselves to be very much third-class every single time India has gone to polls.
As long as we keep behaving like third-class citizens, we will continue to receive third-class governance. Now is the best time as any to change that. So this time whether you are out of station, your uncle’s distant relative’s daughter is getting married, or your dog needs to be taken for vaccination, do not find an excuse to not vote. We are great at lighting candles at street squares and signing petitions on Facebook. Punching on a voting machine is only so much more difficult. Vote wisely.