Now that most of you may have voted, I find it morally safe to express my reservations about the electoral system in India and why I think our vote doesn’t matter. Yes, despite the hype by popular campaigns insisting that you lose your right to criticize and complain if you don’t vote, I think our vote simply doesn’t matter.
Recollect the scenario from your classroom experience: most of us would have seen a class representative anointed by the teacher and irrespective of who he/she is, it hardly mattered to most of us. The situation barely changes even as you graduate to higher education. Most of the college campus leaders are chosen by consensus, a euphemism for anointment by faculty, instead of elections which are dubbed as bringing ‘dirty politics’ into campuses.
Is a person anointed by a higher authority answerable to you? That’s the crux.
But you may argue, we actually elect our leaders and we have a choice to choose from the list of candidates. Upon keener reflection, it becomes evident that we’re faced only with an illusion of choice – the elected representative, in the present setup, owes very little to the people who helped him win.
Imagine a person with political inclinations wishing to genuinely serve people – what are the options available to him? Go forward as an independent? Can such a person, assuming he hasn’t amassed wealth through prior connections, afford to bear the staggering expenses required to contest? The only other alternative happens to join an existing party – but based on what calculations would he be chosen against a group of contestants (for party ticket to a constituency)? Evidently, by showcasing his strength in terms of backing and wealth. And what about the expectations by the party, should he win? Irrespective of his personal ethics, he has no option but to join the vicious circle of opting for illegal means to support his campaign, sustain his group’s expectations while in power and source the party their cut for favouring him over others.
Once a candidate wins, he needs to do more to pacify his high-power supporters (financiers, strong-men etc.) and win the trust of the party chief more than he is required to satisfy the people of his constituency. To regain the ticket the next time, he is dependent on party chief and not his people, whom he thinks he can anyway ‘manage’ via suitable matrix of caste, regionalism, religion, groupisms and select benefits to the vulnerable sections.
There appears to be a unsaid, unstated but nonetheless binding obligation among many political circles across party affiliations to never target those in opposition ‘below the belt’. We often hear a newly formed government accusing the previous government of large-scale corruptions. But apart from the obvious gains accrued from such allegations, there is no strong vindictive drive against them, despite probable availability of adequately incriminating evidence. No politician is pursued to the finish despite evidence against them being strong (rings bells to people of AP?)
To present a hypothetical situation which is alarmingly close to reality in Indian context: What if a group of people with common agenda of self-promotion split in various parties and present before commoners a choice of choosing between them? What if a dictator to give people an illusion of choice, gives them an option to choose one from his three (or any number) yes-men, who’re ultimately answerable to him alone?
Case Study: Andhra Pradesh
Let us get to examples. In early 1980s, people of Andhra Pradesh exercised their right to choose from a list of candidates. So they had the power to choose the government of their choice? No. With no formidable force against Congress, the winnable candidates were from Congress stable and most were elected not on strength of their personal performance and capabilities, but because of their affiliation with the party. The then Prime Minister and Congress Head, Indira Gandhi, almost unilaterally (in consultation with her private team), decided whom to give the tickets and who would get which ministry and the post of Chief Minister became a joke with frequent changes in their appointment depending on the whims and fancies of higher command.
In this scenario, did it matter to people of Andhra Pradesh whom they voted, as their representatives eventually lined to fall at the feet of madam to earn her goodwill (and avoid her displeasure?).
It was in light of the above ground realities that N.T. Rama Rao captured the imagination of Telugu people in 1984 by ably showcasing the high-handedness of Congress party and launched Telugu Desam Party which stormed to power in 9 months from its inception.
Cut to present, the people of Telangana witnessed the choice of illusion with respect to their demand of separate state until the rejuvenation of the spirit in 2009, thanks to fast by KCR. All parties uniformly stated that they were not opposed to the idea of Telangana but hardly stood their ground where it mattered. The elected representatives owed their allegiance to the party and not the people. This jinx was broken only when people came out in open and only the fear of total annihilation of their political career forced many out of political loyalty.
Telangana is a first of its kind in India atleast in terms of its down-to-top power enforcement. Politicians for the first time sensed they are doomed despite benevolent party high-command if people don’t back them. And with people’s support, many are relieved to realize that they no longer needed high-command’s blessings to win.
Only when India witnesses this kind of change on a larger scale will the much advertised ‘change’ appear. With internal democracy within parties largely absent in India, only people’s en-bloc vote, much like the vote-bank politics, can force politicians to actually listen to their people.