Ideally, to unravel the mystery of low voter turnout, it should be analysed seriously by experts who are senior to the aam aadmi (common man) in terms of their subject of study. But that would be too much to ask for our prime-time celebrity anchors.
On the February 8, 2020, the Assembly Election took place in Delhi. A day after perhaps the most hyped festival of democracy, Sudhir Chaudhary, our star anchor of a Hindi news channel Zee News, once again graced the Indian audiences with his seemingly Pulitzer award-winning show DNA.
To (not) our great surprise, his analysis was inept and filled with the bantering of “Delhi ke log aalasi hai aur unhe muft me suvidhayen chahiye” (the people of Delhi are lazy and all they want are freebies and services they don’t have to pay for).
Eventually making his show, perhaps, meant for examining the result of exit polls, into a show scolding the Delhiite audience for being a ‘muftkhor’ (freeloader) as they voted majorly for AAP.
He opened the show saying – “Delhi ko fark nahi padta Hindustan-Pakistan, Mughlon ka raaj wapas aa jayega, Ram mandir, Kashmir, Article 370 se. Ye mudde Delhi ki janata ko koi maayne nahi rakhte” (Delhi is unaffected by the tension between India and Pakistan. They don’t care if the Mughal Raj takes over them yet again. The Ram mandir, Kashmir, Article 370 – these issues are not important for Delhi’s populace).
This opening line doesn’t seem problematic, does it? Rationally thinking (through the pesky and dark cloud of fake news, hate-mongering, untrue dissemination of the non-fact about the rise of an enemy in our country in the disguise of Pakistan, Urban Naxals, ‘tukde-tukde gang‘, and intelligentsia) why should not a citizen fall for these made up and fake issues?
First, because these non-facts are a lie and secondly, a voter of assembly poll election should worry about the local issues that are affecting his daily life every day. To be true, it is not rocket science to crack open this dilemma.
On that account, whether I am receiving potable water, whether the water that is being delivered to my house by the government is uncontaminated, whether my locality is clean, whether my area has efficient drainage system, whether my electricity services are feasible and the favorite of it all (close to my heart) whether I can provide quality education (yes, it matters!) to my children at affordable prices should not be the issues to vote for?
However, our beloved Mr Sudhir unleashes his disappointment in Delhi voters as to why the people did not vote for Ram mandir and Hindustan–Pakistan. And we get befuddled on the prospect that why should a Delhi voter be voting for Ram mandir (which is not to be constructed in Delhi), Hindustan-Pakistan (Does Pakistan run Delhi?).
Above all of that, did not we, the great citizens of this country, vehemently choose BJP for all these issues (which according to Chaudhary do not matter to people of Delhi) did not Delhi voters choose BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections to erect a magnificent Ram mandir in Ayodhya, and to elect a leader for this country who can (almost) every day mock and criticise Pakistan for everything which is wrong with this country? From water to food, schools to universities, from Hindus being in danger to a paralysed economy? Did not we?
The central theme of his show which should have analysed the exit polls of Delhi talked only about the city’s voters as being lazy for not turning up to polling booths. It spoke of hypocrites who only talk about politics over fancy parties, write about their political opinion on social media, and don’t turn up for voting to translate their privileged political ‘conversations’ into action.
Meanwhile, he also had something to say for those voters who did turn up to polling booth. He called them – “Delhi wale apne me mast rahna chahte hai wo, desh toote phoote ya na phoote usse kuch fark nahi padta, mera jeevan aaram se chalna chahiye,” (Delhiites are busy with themselves. Whether the country is falling to shambles or is being broken down, they don’t care. Their lives should be smoothly running) type people. But is it true?
What does he imply by saying “desh toote phoote, usse unko fark nahi padta” (Whether the country is falling to shambles or is being broken down, they don’t care)? Does voting for a party that ensures affordable electricity, potable water, affordable and quality schools, higher education, job creation, women safety, expanding bus infrastructure, and healthcare not count as an act towards doing something solid for the tooti-phooti (broken) state of politics and political system? And is it not, in itself, a patriotic act?
Coming to his remark on the low turnout for assembly polls, was he right in saying “Delhi wale aalasi hai…. Delhi wale ke liye election ka din sirf chhutti ka din rah jata hai” (Delhiites are lazy. For them, polling day is nothing but a holiday)? Is there any study or evidence backing his remark? If, yes, he should have referenced it and brought it under the knowledge of common people, but he did not as there is no evidence!
Studies on the factors of low turnout in different metropolitan cities of the country vary, but none claim the aalasipan (laziness) to be the reason for it. One study by Sanjay Kumar and Sourdeep Benerjee debunks the myth of ‘middle-class apathy’ towards electoral politics.
The study says, “In the absence of any empirical evidence, this phenomenon (low voter turnout) is often attributed by the media and political commentators to middle-class apathy and their disdain towards electoral politics.” On the contrary, it also says, “It is because the urban poor residing in the cities do not exercise their franchise in large numbers.”
Unlike Mr Chaudhary, the paper does not let the opinion of “who does not vote is lazy” cloud the reasoning faculty of the brain, so it digs deeper and finds the answer among data and evidence through hard work. They find the two factors behind the low electoral participation among urban poor of Delhi – low enrolment rates, and the nature of the occupational engagement of short-term migrants.
All said and done, what wrong did Delhi voters do that they deserve this public bantering? Why should a journalist who is supposed to be the voice of the vulnerable, poor and marginalised be donning the attire of a bully?
Are the German, Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish citizens muftkhor (freeloaders) and aalasi (lazy) for using welfare schemes ranging from free higher education to health services? No, ironically, we, the Indians, look up to these states and their citizens as talented, hard-working, rich and elite.
The efficiency of the model of welfare states can no doubt be debated, but calling out citizens availing welfare schemes as aalasi, muftkhor is deplorable. Especially if it is coming from the mouth of a journalist. Talk about reservation in educational institutions and job recruitment, the majority of our public shout “Merit, Merit!” Talk about free bus ride for women of Delhi, they shout “Equality, Equality!”
Does availing welfare schemes or any affirmative policies make the beneficiaries aalasi? Well, there has not been a shred of evidence for this fallacious opinion.
Remember the pride of the nation, Nobel laureate Abhijeet Vinayak Banerjee? He conducted a study – debunking the stereotype of the lazy welfare recipient – and found out that the common myth, among policy-makers and citizens, of providing direct cash discourages the work among beneficiaries, has no empirical evidence.
In the age of post-truth, where data and facts are villains and fallacious opinions of our star anchors, media houses, politicians and chachas (paternal uncles) are looked upon as the sermon of God, we the common people, will always be vilified by the fourth pillar of democracy.