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Why I will not vote next time, and neither should you

By Sherna Gandhy
Last updated on: April 30, 2014 17:41 IST
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A elderly person gets out to vote in Mumbai'I think we are just too complacent about our electoral system. There's a lot that is very wrong with it. But we continue to parrot the boring mantra of this being the greatest electoral exercise in the world. Things are not going to change. Next election, let's boycott the whole process en masse, says Sherna Gandhy,

What do you think a doormat feels like when the person whose doorstep it sits on wipes his or her feet on it?

Pretty much like the Indian voter, I would imagine.

Used, abused and sullied.

The doormat, of course, being insentient has no choice, but to sit there and take it.

But why does the Indian voter who can go tell every stupid, corrupt and incompetent political party in the country to go take a hike simply by refusing to vote, never do this?

Why do citizens queue up to vote one useless, incompetent candidate out and another one with the same credentials, in?

The five-yearly ritual, of voting one set of venal fools out and another set in, is held to prove to the world and ourselves that democracy -- or some form of it -- is still alive in our country.

This exercise, useless to every one, but the political class and its cronies, is amply aided and abetted by the most abused section of the polity -- the voter.

For five years, the voter will rant and rave and complain and abuse the political party in power and its minions.

Then, in what I can only believe is the triumph of hope over common sense, it will stand obediently in line to vote more of the same -- just under a different name -- back in.

Of late, an idea has been gaining ground that not to vote is in some way anti-national, that it is one's duty as a citizen to vote.

I don't know where this idea originated, but it has taken quite deep root in the middle classes and in even sections of the upper middle classes who were once considered non-voters as a class.

This year all manner of residents associations and civic-minded groups sent flyers and were quoted in newspapers passionately appealing to voters to exercise their right.

They have the backing of all political parties, who will look pretty silly if voters simply refused to turn out and press the button on the EVM.

I am a reluctant voter, but brainwashed by all these patriotic appeals I went along to get my finger inked.

Only to find that the wonderful muddle that is the Election Commission had for some reason muddled my details so much that I was barred from voting (though I had done so without a problem in 2004).

My parents had received their voter ID cards three days before the polling date, but I did not. Still, I was pretty sure I would be on the electoral roll since I have voted from the same polling station before and already have a voter ID card.

Our polling station is in a school that is located down a steep and narrow slope, making access to it difficult. The officers with the electoral rolls sit behind the building, further down the slope, necessitating a mini hike up and down.

After much hunting, I found all our names -- Hallelujah!

But nothing is that simple. Though my name was there in some book the officer dug out (maybe that was the sacred electoral roll) -- and even correctly spelt -- there was no photo alongside it for some reason.

Moreover, the number stamped on it was the same as my mother's! (who, incidentally, could not vote in 2004 because she was not on the rolls).

Sorry, the officer presiding over these mysteries told me, no voting for you madam.

Many people had got the same answer in the 30 minutes I spent trying to get this useless piece of information. Some argued vociferously, waving voter ID cards, passports and Aadhar cards at the stolid officer.

I wasn't too downcast. I would probably have voted NOTA anyway.

At least my parents, made of sterner stuff and determined to do their 'duty' could get to vote since their papers seemed to be in order. But, again nothing is that simple when it comes to exercising your franchise.

There was plenty of room on the ground floor of the school to house the EVM, but the ingenious Election Commission chose instead to locate it on the first floor, up two flights of steep stairs.

Try getting two 80-plus parents, one with a broken leg, up two flights.

With much huffing and puffing and apologies to other people being held up, we managed to scale the heights. To be confronted by a narrow, dark corridor, stinking of urine, crowded with people in a long queue and stiflingly hot.

This corridor led to a tiny room with one EVM and one incompetent polling officer. Into this sanctum sanctorum my parents got quick entry as senior citizens (thanks to helpful people in the queue and not to any EC official).

And there -- they inside and I outside -- spent another 30 minutes, gagging and perspiring, while several more bureaucratic procedures were gone through (for what purpose my parents were unable to explain -- they just did what they were told).

Had it not been for a neighbour who happened to be inside the room and helped them out, my mother said she would have walked out and patriotism be damned.

Meanwhile outside, the queue was getting restive. Just on the other side of a breeze block wall was a much larger space that seemed to be getting plenty of breeze. Why was the polling booth not located there, where there was more light and space, and the breeze would blow out the urine stench, irate voters were asking.

No one to answer, of course, except the lone policeman on duty who said he had been on duty since the day before and had not had even a cup of tea all morning as there was no one to relieve him.

There were plenty of press persons and cameras about downstairs but, of course, they were not there to record what the ordinary voter had to say and experience, but to get a shot of the inked finger of the film stars who frequent this polling station.

Altogether, it took us an hour to negotiate the obstacle course that is the great Indian electoral exercise.

Since then I have heard of other people who completed the process in a swift 10 minutes. And before you say it, yes, I know this is the greatest election exercise in the world and all said and done it passes off fairly smoothly.

Or does it? Is this yet another little myth we like to believe because we hate seeing the imperfections in the system?

In the Internet age, in the most sophisticated city in the country, why is the election process not easier?

Why do the old and the disabled have to struggle to cast their votes or be barred from casting them?

Why are hundreds of thousands of people mysteriously absent from the rolls?

The Election Commission is making out like this is the first time this has happened. Reference to newspaper reports of past elections will show this is nonsense.

We are also being blamed for not checking if our names are on the rolls beforehand. Once your name is on the election roll and you have voted, why is it necessary to check every time if you are still there?

I think we are just too complacent about our electoral system.

There is a lot that is very wrong with it. But so long as we continue to parrot the boring mantra of this being the greatest electoral exercise in the world, and show pictures of elephants and donkeys carrying ballot cases up steep and remote mountain slopes to prove how well we are coping, things are not going to change.

Next election let's just boycott the whole process en masse.

That is, if by then we have not been converted into a dictatorship and relieved of the bother of voting altogether by the guy widely expected to occupy the top job.

Image: A elderly person gets out to vote in Mumbai. Photograph: Sahil Salvi

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