Voter awareness should encompass not only the ‘why’ and ‘what’ aspects, but also pertain to the ‘how’ aspect of our priceless right to vote.
“So, how was the experience?” I asked my friends, aware that they were first-time voters.
“I was off to the marines,” replied one friend, “Sab saale ek jaise, kisko vote doon samajh nahi aata.” (Every politician is as bad as the other, I’m confused who to vote for.)
“Why bother to step out and vote when you know the pathetic status quo would be maintained, no matter whoever is your MLA or whichever party comes to power,” stated another, adding that he was relaxing at home.
The low polling recorded in the recently concluded Maharashtra and Haryana assembly elections is worrisome for our democracy. As per the data shared by the Election Commission of India, the voter turnouts for Maharashtra and Haryana were 60.5% and 65% respectively, with Mumbai recording as low as a 46% turnout. In the 2014 Maharashtra elections, 63.08% of the electors had cast their votes, while for Haryana it was 76%.
This lack of enthusiasm among the voters depicts their lack of credence in electoral politics, many of them impuissant to decide which candidate to vote for, resulting in skipping of their precious right to vote. The political education of the masses and mainly our youngsters is the need of the hour. Mere celebrity endorsements and advertisements would have no appeal unless the voters are persuaded about the need to vote, made conscious about the invaluable right they possess and guided about how they should exercise it.
Here, the ‘bounded rationality model of the decision-making process’ comes into the picture. Herbert Simon, cognitive psychologist and Nobel Laureate, was the pioneer of this model which deals with the administrative person in an organisation.
He defined decision making as ‘the optimum rational choice between alternative courses of actions.’ The three principal phases of the decision-making process are:
1) Intelligence activity: what is the problem?
2) Design activity: what are the alternatives?
3) Choice activity: which alternative is best?
Human behaviour is characterised by bounded rationality (limited rationality) leading to ‘satisficing decisions’ (satisfaction + sufficing) as against ‘maximising’ decisions (optimising decisions). Various factors like time and cost constraints, environmental forces, information factors, nature of organisational objectives, etc. lead to ‘satisficing’ or ‘good enough’ decisions.
We are the ‘administrative citizens’ in this ‘organisational nation’ and hence, Simon’s model could be linked to the election scenario. The three principal phases would be:
1) Intelligence activity: to choose a representative who would formulate policies and legislate for our holistic economic, political and socio-cultural development.
2) Design activity: to know the contenders in the fray, the political parties they belong to, their backgrounds, experiences, developmental works and other relevant parameters.
3) Choice activity: to choose the ‘best available candidate.’
Total rationality in voter behaviour is impossible. Many constraints like lack of details, unavailability of information, unawareness about the nature of candidates do exist and hence ‘cent per cent best’ is rather difficult, as a result, a ‘satisficing decision’ has to be taken.
Thus, voter education has to focus on being multivariate, encouraging not only to vote but also ushering one’s mind and rationale while doing so. The electoral literacy clubs, voter awareness forums and the chunav pathshala initiatives of the Election Commission should not just remain on paper, but be implemented properly.
The founding fathers of our nation envisioned a participatory democracy and to effectuate that, the provision of universal adult suffrage was instated in the constitution. Votes are the building blocks of democracy and every vote counts, indeed. It is not just about the right to vote, it also pertains to the duty to vote.
Ultimately it is the government which we elect, that administers us right from womb to tomb. India would never be a superpower without its citizens being responsible, well informed and dutiful. In my opinion, abstaining from voting amounts to insulting the vision of our founding fathers.