An account on vote

It is still an ordeal in many parts of India to get to the voting venue, what with weather, distance and goons playing spoil sport. And even if you reach there on the appointed day, it is an even bigger pain to be held up in queues for hours before seeing the insides of the booth for what is increasingly being felt as an utterly useless exercise. But the act of voting itself is a darn simple affair, more so with EVMs. You are out in a jiffy and with a telltale ‘black mark’ to show that thou hast just committed a grave crime on thyself and fellow citizens: placing a politico in power!

Voting is democratic karma. Any day I would want to cast my vote than scoot. Rather, I don’t mind a black mark on each of my ten fingers for I would have given articulation to all the reasons, not exceeding ten, for I have only ten fingers, for voting or not voting for a candidate. But unfortunately the Constitution does not allow that … I mean it allows you to have ten fingers but not ten votes … and so, whatever the shortcomings of your political beneficiary, he gets your whole undivided unqualified vote without the option of rethink or recall for the benefactor. Reason why, once elected, the rep is a kite cut loose. Yet there are around 65% in our midst who perform their D Karma despite the overwhelming odds, like futility, farcicality and frauds. So what is it that drives them? More important, what is it that moulds their minds?

Poets, drunkards, sundry other spurned suitors, hen-pecked husbands and distraught fathers have traditionally held the female mind as the most difficult to fathom. But a voter’s worldview is deeper and more intriguing. Indeed, politicos would be willing to shell out half their collective booty to know the answers. (the rest lies in immovable assets!) Of course even that first half they would recover in no time if they knew the trick. Media, particularly the 24/7 channels, for their part would be more than keen to drop all current anchors and enlist new ones if the latter can read a voter’s thoughts. Psephology, the study of elections and voting behavior, may be just a five decade old ‘science’, but scores have wracked their brains to unravel the mysteries of the mass mind vis-a-vis the vote.

But elections since the dawn of electoral history have been notorious for causing upsets, confounding pundits and confusing politicos. The recent assembly polls to five States too have thrown up their own share of red herrings and decoys. The results are by no means dramatic. Yet they are remarkable for the lack of it. As usual, predictions, even the few that were tentatively advanced, fell flat. Anti-incumbency was supposed to consume Shivraj Chauhan in MP and Sheila Dikshit in Delhi. Well, Sheila aunty is still incumbent while Chauhan remains ship shape. In Chhattisgarh too the incumbent got bent a little but was not broken. In Rajasthan, even Congressmen concede that had it not been for dissidents Vasundhra would have won comfortably. In fact, the anti-incumbent mood was only with in the BJP! I plead ignorance in Mizoram where the incumbent perished. But by and large, it is the fast dwindling fraternity of psephologists who are up against anti-incumbency!

There are other surprises. Advani and Sonia are conspicuously absent in the credits. The local netas have clearly eclipsed the national leaders. Of course, no one is blaming the high commands for failure either, but that has always been the case, at least in the Congress. Again, the Mumbai terror attacks on poll eve were supposed to swell the BJP vote bank. Well, the terror cheque bounced. Of course, the pundits have now promptly put away their practised poll wisdom, post facto. The revised rules are: Performers are exempt from anti-incumbency; national politicians count little in States; and Assembly polls are all about bread and butter problems, while life or death issues like terror do not figure. Sounds quite logical … till the voters trump these revelations too!

But all these assume that there is something called mass mood and collective reasoning. The presumption is that every voter is a member of a homogenuous thought group and reacts as such to political and other developments. This faulty premise is a result of an intellectual imposition that likes to see things in cut and dried categories. Of late it is also a media construct that loves to see even complicated issues in yes or no SMS format and pass it off as public opinion. Or convert transient individual angst into an ephemeral visual of mass hysteria that expends itself once the cameras move away. The issue itself gets trivialised and vanishes from public consciousness owing to overkill and sheer fatigue. For instance, did not the post terror protests, though spontaneous at an individual level seem simulated, on screen? In the end, terror got downgraded with a few ‘casualties’ like a couple of Patils, one Deshmukh and one Ram Gopal Verma getting pilloried with little anger left in stock for Pak and its jihadis! But to a basic question: Were all those protestors agreed on all things that they voted on?

May be it is possible in US with a long history of democratic evolution to classify public mood into clear streams and even track them. But in India where democracy has preceded literacy and prosperity, deciphering voting tendencies even if they form a pattern, will be fraught with fallacies. This is not to suggest that the Indian voter is unintelligent or irrational, but his voting sense is more guided by self-interest and this instant rather than by national concerns and the long term. But vote blocks and en masse voting are also realities. Religious minorities often resort to negative or tactical voting to defeat a perceived tormentor. Caste groups can transfer votes in bulk. But mass electoral upsurges, pro or anti politician or party, are rare, like the 1984 LS polls and 1996 TN polls, to name a few. In most other polls, the voter is not as formidable ‘collectively’ as is made out.

In reality, despite the power his forefinger wields, the Indian voter is weak, confused, disillusioned and instinctive. The ‘loud and clear’ verdicts are mostly isolated individual groans and whispers gathered and amplified at poll time by political and media megaphones. But such random and haphazard provocations do converge. Several voters end up voting for the same party or candidate for different reasons. And since there are only this many options for those committed to vote come what may, the see saw swings between usual suspects. Forget love or pride, a voter would not even want anyone to know who he voted for lest it reflects badly on him(voter). Reason why exit polls often come a cropper. And then there are also perversions like the first-past-the-post system and post poll coalitions that frustrate the very intent of the voter. A candidate with 80% in his constituency against him can still win. So can an MP with minority legislative support reverse his fortunes as well as the acronym to become PM!

It is said the voter is no fool. But if elected politicos are any indication, it is getting a bit difficult to tell the difference. Now, are we any the wiser about a voter’s mindset? Well, you search yours. I’ll search mine.!

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Jawahar T R