It’s voters’ theatre

81.5 crores, or 815 million. What’s the big deal? Indeed, for those jaded by scam numbers like Rs 1.76 lakh crores of spectrum, incalculable lakhs of crores of coal to the latest  Rs 850 crore Rolls Royce kickback, the figure mentioned in line 1 would seem like small change. But we are for a change talking about people. And of course, about the momentous, massive change that those people can usher in.

So, the rallying of over 81.5 cr people, spread across a substantial landmass, a sub-continent really, with varying cultures and characters, casting their franchise over a period of thirty six days and in nine tranches is a numerical feat that belies comparison. And the mammoth, mind-boggling administrative effort the elections entail is something that cannot be quantified. But ultimately it is in the hands of the people, their index finger to be precise, to make this election a landmark in the evolution of our democracy. And all it takes for that to happen is for the 81.5 cr voters, to the last one on the rolls, to get the ink blot, press the button and cast their ballot.

Any poll is a political event and so personalities, parties and their political posturings are the obvious cynosure. But I am inclined to look at this poll more as a test and challenge to the voter rather than to any politician or party. Of course, the voters’ act will ultimately manifest itself in the person of a politician. But with so much murky water having flowed under the bridge, and with upto date info at the swipe of a finger, the successful candidate and his vote share will also determine the character of the voter himself. After all, while politicos may consider and classify the voting masses as vote banks or blocs, the voter’s choice is supposed to emerge from a lonely albeit learned thought process. That is assuming, we want to defy the politicos who take us for granted, something we have always grudged against. Now is the time to guard against too.

The conundrums that face the voter are many. Indeed, before lapsing into larger questions, running a quick self-check would often reveal embarrassing exposes of the greedy birds, lazy worms and the political animals lurking within us. While it calls for a truly altruistic and patriotic mindset to describe voting as a national honour, it certainly is a national duty, a democratic karma that has to be delivered come what may. So the core question is if you have decided to vote at all. And also to look back on your voting track record. A non/reluctant voter is the biggest ally of the politico. An ‘internal’ audit would also reveal if extraneous factors from money, booze and freebies to fanhood and face-cuts influence your voting behaviour. The politicos’ phenomenal success in bribing or bewitching voters in many polls places the disease directly at such voters’ doorstep. Why not, when we step out to vote, also walk to the booth with a clean, clear conscience, make at least this one national-cum-personal calling truly above board, whatever our other proclivities in other walks of life?

Once this individual threshold is crossed, there are dozens of dilemmas waiting to dog even the discerning denizen. The isolated voter and voter alone can sort out such confusions and it is possible that his/her decision would still be lacking in conviction. An LS poll particularly puts us in many quandaries. What if you are inclined towards a national party or its PM prospect, but hate the local ally whose candidate is seeking your favour? What if you prefer your State party which however stands no chance of making any difference at the Centre? Does a corrupt or criminal candidate or a non-performing incumbent deserve your vote simply because he is in the party of your choice? What if all alternatives on your list are unworthy in your view? Is exercising the NOTA -None of the above- option a viable expression or just escapism? Is the voter capable of placing all the so-called raging issues on a scale to arrive at a choice or are all the analysis just a laboured alibi for a decision that is ultimately impulsive?

Indeed, the number of questions would be a mind-numbing permutation of 81.5 cr minds, 10 cr of which are debutants. And the democratic consensus that emerges would pass as people’s will even if it be a result of arithmetic accidents, crisscrossing reasonings and unreconcilable interests. And there is always the post-poll scene where about 540 odd ‘stall-warts’ would seek to thwart even that mandate if it is fractured.

Still, in a milieu that is decidedly people vs politico, the vote is both a shield and a weapon. It would be foolish and fatal to shed it. On the contrary the combined clamour of 81.5 crores of citizens can cast a chilling challenge to the current political culture that has become such a curse. Aah, how formidable that number seems now!

e-mail the writer at [email protected]

Jawahar T R