Graduates don’t seem to be interested in the electoral process of the Maharashtra Graduate Constituency Elections 2020; or is it the system that doesn’t seem to be interested in involving voters in the process? Almost all the discussions that happen on my WhatsApp groups these days are centered around politics. Often, these arguments turn into heated exchanges among members over their political opinions and ideologies.
For the most part, these discussions revolve around somebody’s take on the successes and/or failures of various governments and political parties, finally ending with the conclusion of some being labelled as bhakts (devotee) and others as chamchas.
I find these pow wows interesting, as it shows fellow members do care about society and are participating in democracy through the method of debates. Participation is the key role of citizens in democracy. It is not only our right, but also our duty. However, is this level of participation sufficient to bring change in society?
Citizen participation in a democracy needs to go beyond debates over dinner table and social media pages. To bring about a change and realise the true benefits of democracy such as “equality and transparency”, active citizen participation is a must. Equality means all individuals are valued equally and have equal opportunities.
Does equality and transparency exist in politics? Nepotism, criminality, use of money and muscle power by candidates aren’t new to our political system. We all know such things happen regularly, and it is hard for common citizens to stand a chance in an election as strings are held by a few in power.
Historically, this has been a huge obstacle for common citizens to participate actively in the electoral process. The graduates’ and teachers’ constituencies in some states were created to overcome the abovementioned obstacles and encourage representation of intellectuals in the legislative council. The thought process was that allowing only highly educated ones to vote would result in the election of clean, honest and sincere candidates as the polity would grow above caste, community and religious lines.
Currently, with elections mainly controlled and corrupted by big political parties and their muscle power, does the idea of having such special constituencies still hold good? The overall participation of citizens in the process of electing officials to these constituencies remains minuscule. For instance, in an election in Karnataka in 2007, it was observed that out of the seven lakh eligible voters, only about 60,000 or just ~8% had registered themselves and the actual votes polled were only 21,270, which is barely 3% of the eligible voters. The votes polled by the winning candidate were just 11,423 i.e. 1.6% of the eligible voters.
Similarly, Pune Graduate’s Constituency comprising all five districts of western Maharashtra. The total number of graduates in the constituency is >2.3 crores, while the number of registered voters is just ~3.08 lakhs, i.e. 1.3% of eligible voters. Of the registered voters, only 20–30% end up casting their vote, which means only a fraction of eligible voters cast a vote. No wonder then, with the majority of graduates remaining aloof from voting, we might end up electing those who aren’t necessarily qualified to do their job, or do not exactly represent the idea on which these constituencies were created. Elected individuals get the job mainly because they belong to a certain political camp.
So, is there really a point in holding elections where >90–95% of eligible voters do not cast a vote? And finally, who is to blame for the abysmal voter turnout in graduate constituencies? Is it the system that fails or is unwilling to provide timely information and exposure to the public, which is why most eligible voters do not register and vote? Or are we, the people, failing to perform our duty as citizens of the world’s largest democracy by not making efforts to be informed, cast a vote, stand in election and protest the wrong?