|HOME | ELECTION | ISSUES|
|September 9, 1999||
Issues 99/Devaki Jain
'The most dangerous blow they are giving to the Indian polity is making the voter feel that it is not worth voting'
The one issue that has risen like a firecracker in this election is the poor quality of the people that we elect as our representatives for both Parliament and assembly. This human species that we are watching, as they canvas votes and reach out for power, have revealed themselves as totally unrepresentative of the people.
They have shown themselves as willing to change parties, break parties or even destroy the fabric of political structure in India just to gain power. And the most dangerous blow they are giving to the Indian polity is that they are making the voter feel that it is not worth voting.
That is a very dangerous problem because one of India's major strengths is that voters feel that voting is a political expression. They are able to throw out governments, bring in others. All this is done with so much individuality and independence that psephologists are unable to predict what is going to happen.
Now, that is a brilliant comment on the sincerity of democracy of India. If you make the voter feel fatigued not only because of frequent elections, but because he feels that he is not getting anything in return for his vote, then you begin to hurt democracy at its core.
The ugliness and the total irresponsibility of the people we have elected have begun to demoralise the electorate. You see voters saying, on all these television forums and chat shows, '' These people are all awful.''
Another issue that strikes me now is the questions being posed by the media, especially television, to people, such as the woman in the village or the man on the street. I am saddened by the way the media almost make such people say that their vote is useless, by asking questions like : ''What are your needs?''
After the usual laundry list of ''we need housing, water and food'' comes up -- as if the State is the only provider of all these -- the interviewers then ask: ''Has the politician you elected ever come back and given you what you asked for?'' The answer predictably enough is ''no, he never gives it.'' Constant repetition of this message, which implies that voting is a pointless exercise, only enhances the fatigue and depression that the voter already feels.
Besides, we don't want our representatives to have the attitude that they are Rajas once they get to the Lok Sabha, and that all they need is to throw largesse to the poor people who elected them. If we canonise these parliamentarians like this, they too begin to feel that they hold such exalted positions that they are willing to do anything to hold onto them.
I think the issue that should be considered by the Indian electorate is: how should we improve the quality of the representative houses in India, whether they are at the local level, the state level or the national level, and make them speak out for the people that they represent. I don't mind if there is a cement lobby representing the cement industry, or a transport lobby representing that industry, as long as you also have lobbies representing women, Dalits, urban poor and environmentalists.
There should be a whole lot of different lobbies who can voice their opinion. This will make assemblies and Parliament be what they ought to be, which are places where representatives negotiate their interests and come out with a rabbit from the hat or a policy that is either a consensus or the opinion of the dominant group. But the accountability mechanism is there because they are representing something.
Here what is happening is that they are floating corks without any attachment. I would say that we should immediately address the issue of electoral reform. We should look not only at whether candidates have a criminal record but also at his or her qualifications and achievements.
Then, electoral laws and codes of conduct should be changed completely to ensure that elections don't become things that require thuggery and money. Bad political personnel doing the rounds now should be replaced with sensitive, issue-driven representatives.
Devaki Jain, economist, feminist, social sciences researcher and writer, spoke to M D Riti
ELECTION 99 |
SINGLES | BOOK SHOP | MUSIC SHOP | HOTEL RESERVATIONS | WORLD CUP 99
EDUCATION | PERSONAL HOMEPAGES | FREE EMAIL | FEEDBACK