When the voter is voted out!

To be talking of such dull things as Corporation polls during Valentine’s week is not a very romantic idea. But, with no love lost between the vote-lorn politicos and the people they court, the current round of polls even otherwise lacks the familiar lusture of a democratic festival which is what elections are. Indeed, it would need a sort of Herculean mental effort on the part of voters of the 67 wards that face a court- induced repoll, to even walk up to the booth on the appointed day. As for voting itself, as we now know, it is an altogether different or deal.

Voter-reluctance is a global trend. The reasons range from casual indifference to indignation. While the former cannot be excused the latter can be justified at least; but not voting, it is said, could turn out more suicidal than voting. The non-voters may end up facilitating a bigger evil to gain power. Even those who vote during the current times rarely do so out of any real faith in a candidate. Their intention is to keep out the most hated character in a hate-list of candidates; this is dubbed as ‘tactical voting’. Like voter-reluctance, such negative voting too is a universal trait, but ironically it is also deemed a positive step in the larger democratic scheme of things as at least the act of voting happens. If one does not vote, for whatever reason, it is likely the habit will vanish.

Several social activists are now crying themselves hoarse in Chennai precisely out of such concerns. Much to their discomfort, their own assessments and media reports talk of almost total disillusionment amidst the city’s voters with the Corporation polls slated for Sunday. From fear to frustration, the emotions vary, but it is clear more and more people are likely to keep away. They may venture out to buy a newspaper or vegetables but would be most careful not to stumble into a polling booth even by mistake. To use a cliche, they will not seek out a booth for shelter even ‘if it rains’. The memories of the painful experiences of the earlier polling held in October is a certain deterrent, but more potent is the feeling of futility. Most people feel the polls are a farce and so voting is a waste of time and effort. The voters, in short, look irrelevent.

The run up to the repoll would prove them right. When local body polls were held in October last, unprecedented violence was let loose in Chennai booths while electoral malpractices happened at an unheard-of-level, breaking all past records set by the Dravidian parties themselves. While the opposition naturally cried foul, even the allies of the DMK, who too were at the receiving end, came out openly against the authorities, namely, police and the State Election Commission, besides accusing their partner of hooliganism. With the rulers and their ‘kept’ bureaucracy feigning innocence, the matter promptly landed in court. The two judge bench, that heard the opposition plea, was split, with one Judge castigating the conduct of polls and ordering repoll in about 100 wards, while the other sought to dismiss the opposition prayer. (The third judge before whom the issue came up has since confirmed the irregularities.)

But the wily politician in Karunanidhi saw an opportunity. He quickly made his councillors resign and announced repolls. But the smart political move posed an unexpected problem: according to the provisions of the Chennai City Municipal Corporation Act M Subramanian who resigned as Mayor cannot seek re-election. Now, that would be an unkind cut on a ‘Thambi’ who obeyed the ‘Annan’ to the letter. Presto! The law was changed by the Assembly post-haste to allow an outgoing Mayor or Deputy Mayor to seek re-election. The resignation of the Mayor, which remained in limbo, was then ‘accepted’. This ‘quit’ pro quo, should rank as the high point of ‘rationalist’ politics, bereft of even a shred of morality or consideration for public opinion.

Through such self-serving, albeit self-respecting manipulations, they had earlier dispensed with direct elections to the post of Mayor and Deputy Mayor, making it virtually impossible for non-party candidates to occupy those posts. And if still, by some providence, an ‘undesirable’ or ‘irrational’ unfortunate were to become Mayor or Deputy Mayor, he can now be removed by a simple notification. Indeed, activists point out to several such changes in the fineprint that can have not-so- fine ramifications. Now, we, the irrational ones are not supposed to rationalise on why such changes invariably happen on the eve of polls. In any case, with such devious rationalism at play, do the common folk stand a chance?

The rulers wouldn’t care a dime, if you vote or not. In fact they would be happy, if you do not, for that would mean polling of their committed bloc of votes. Once bitten, whatever bogus voting, for habit sake, can be done post-lunch on a Sunday, when even crows would be in siesta. With some opposition parties staying away, that is sure victory, in whatever wards remain. Already amid accusataions of intimidation and dire threats to some contenders, 33 ruling alliance candidates have become councillors ‘unopposed’. Indeed, it looks as though, nothing on earth is going to stop Mr Subramanian from becoming Mayor again. Unless, of course, the super-rationalist, deems otherwise!

But vote we must, despite all this painful tamasha. For, performing this democratic karma bestows on us the basic eligibility to complain against a bumpy road or to swat a persistent mosquito. And the activists and the media, for their part, should busy themselves with building public opinion on the prudence of purging the civic poll arena of politicians and parties. In any case, with a booming economy, there is enough of tax-payers’ money lying in the Central and State coffers for politicos and even their progeny, to loot and scoot. Why scratch even the niggardly bowls and pitchers of the commonman, by coveting the local bodies too?

e-mail the writer at [email protected]

Jawahar T R