The missing ink

The lukewarm to poor voter turnout in the key metros of India is perhaps the unkindest cut on democracy. You can have our voice but not necessarily our vote, seems to be the urbanites’ answer to the national call of duty. The most noisy crowd on national issues feels nary a compulsion to follow up indignation and ideas with action. Whatever it is worth, the vote is still the only instrument of political change and not casting it tantamounts to forfeiting the Constitutional fundamental right to expression!

We are not talking of the ones who had very genuine reasons for not voting; their conscience knows best. But this ‘excusable’ lot certainly cannot be around 40%! It is those who could very well have voted but did not who are the object of our ire. Mumbai at 53%, Delhi’s 65%, Bangalore’s 56% and Chennai’s 61%, are all well below national and non-urban averages. If only the vote-shy ones had bothered to budge from their homes, they could really take credit for bringing about the ‘change’ that they brag about in cosy talkathons. It is no consolation that there is a substantial increase in urban vote percentage from 2009, barring our Chennai which has shown a dip of over 5%. The metro figures as they stand now are still abysmal.

There has been a substantial accretion in the number of voters across States and initial reports suggest that young India had largely delivered its duty with diligence and enthusiasm, even dragging some reluctant elders to the booth on occasion. Once again, the urban poor and the under-classes, the never failing vote banks that actually have enough reason to lose hope in Governments, too have had their tryst with the ballot, whatever the ‘provocations’. Clearly the needle of suspicion for the low turnout points to the urban elite. The group that had reaped the most of the so-called growth dividend, or enjoyed the least power outages, to count just one blessing, however sees no need to even acknowledge its superior citizenship. The absence of the blot on many of those left index fingers is the real blot on this class!

Chennai voted for apathy. A fairly good rise in fresh voters who actually voted was compensated by the regulars who did not turn up, thus dragging down the figures by a disturbing 5% vis-a-vis ‘09. There were complaints of missing names but these were much less than in earlier polls. Maybe the missing list would have been longer had more voters gone to the booth, but the knowledge of such misses will now remain in ignorantial bliss. Anyway, there has been much prodding by the EC over the last several months and also awareness campaigns in the media to check if names dont go missing. Many missed this precaution. Still that does not exonerate the EC in several genuine cases where many a poll-scarred voter was rendered missing in voting-action, having been de-listed mysteriously. Their pain too is a blot on democracy.

South Chennai deserves special mention since even the national media describes this as the most elite constituency in TN. For the record, its just around 60 number which happily, is still above Bangalore and Mumbai, has pulled down the city’s as well as the State’s percentage. The other two Chennai seats have just crossed 60, no big deal either, and have also found peers in quasi urban constituencies like Coimbatore, Madurai and Tiruchi. The paradoxical trend of rising voters and falling or stagnant voting percentages in the urban areas is not only a statistical challenge but also a demographer’s delight. After all, voting is one duty from which there is no retirement.

Poll pundits have put up many plausible reasons for voters’ absence. We had already mentioned the most popular buzzword, namely, apathy. This abstract term can be taken to mean many things. I am upset at the four fingers that point inward: The English media, both TV and Print, that are largely urban centric have simply failed to convert candlelight vigilantes into ballot-button-pushers. This media appears to have made armchair analysts out of regular voters. I am sure many ‘concerned’ citizens would have watched the ticker line at the bottom showing the bad voting percentage with all consternation while all they had to do to improve it was to stretch their legs and use their finger, that too just one out of the total ten. And of course, there is this zenith of apathy: How does it matter if I vote or not or who rules? And the nadir: Laziness.

Many upwardly mobile urbanites were supposedly on holiday, travelling vertically or horizontally. Thursday was an auspicious ‘Muhurtham’ and so marriages divorced many a family from the booth. Offices defied EC stricture and put official duty above national. All fine. But what got my goat was the excuse of heat. Polls fall invariably in summer. Elite Chennai go to booths in cars, do not trudge. In any case, there were more booths than Tasmac outlets and one, not a T.shop but B, was always close at hand. By late afternoon most were empty and voting, even ‘in sweltering heat’ was still only a ten minute job.

By the way, Dharmapuri, one of the driest and most backward lands, recorded 81% polling. And Dindigul, the frying pan of TN, delivered 79.5%. Now, that’s democracy, piping hot!

e-mail the writer at [email protected]

Jawahar T R