With elections round the corner, one can’t help but think about what they mean to the ordinary apolitical citizen, someone like me, for instance. Most of us have no hard and fast party affiliations or strong opinions of the political parties in the fray, while we may have strong opinions on other matters. And yet, once in five years or so, we are asked to decide who among them should rule us for the next five years. And most of us obediently trek to the polling stations and press the right buttons for the candidates we think will serve us best. Often it is a choice of the better rather than the good, the voter having lost confidence in all political parties across the spectrum. Still, a sense of duty takes us to that queue, makes us wait patiently for our turn and go in and vote. And then, with a sigh of relief, duty done, we turn away and go home. There is also an optimism that sometime someone will rule us well, if only we make the right choice. I wonder if any of us spends much time in analysing the poll promises (of course the makers of promises would also probably not have spent much time on them except to check what would sound better), whether they are practicable, whether the parties can deliver even a small percentage of them. Such analyses would probably make us even more apathetic and we would end up not voting at all.
India, comparatively, has a good record of voter turnout. It has wavered between the higher fifties and the lower sixties. Which means that millions across this country have braved often terrible weather conditions and other physical difficulties and cast their votes, showing their preference as to who should rule them. In the elections of 2019, it is said that sixty seven per cent of Indians cast their votes. Probably the votes would have hovered somewhere near the midway mark for the opposing candidates. So, it would behove the people who have been elected to the centre and the states to remember that only about thirty five per cent of the people of the country are in favour of being ruled by them.
Kerala, so far, has voted in two coalitions in turn. I’ve often wondered at the psychology of it. Is it a sense of disillusionment with the incumbents (don’t forget that there is an acknowledged incumbency factor) and a forlorn hope that the other group will be better. Franklin Adams said long ago that ‘elections are won by men and women chiefly because most people vote against somebody rather than for somebody’.
Or, to be very cynical, is each election decided on which of the political parties can lie better to the public? There is an old poem by Kipling talking of politicians: ‘I could not dig: I dared not rob. / Therefore I lied to please the mob.’ Is this what our politicians too say when they speak to themselves or to their images in the mirror?
However that may be, poor as the system may be, democracy is still the best possible system for a vast country like India because, for one thing it admits variety and for a second it permits criticism at least theoretically. Even if the criticism has to be muted because of intolerance, there is still the fact that you only have to wait to show that the criticism was meant and not listening to it can cost the rulers their power. The fact that a powerful ruler like Indira Gandhi was defeated by a comparatively unknown person like Raj Narayan who fought the elections from the prison shows that once in a while such reminders can be quite effective given the will of the people.
Anyway, it speaks of the optimism of the large majority of Indians who go along and vote to choose who should rule them in the States and from the Centre, hoping that their little bit of attention to the matter will mean something and not get swallowed up in the large flood. So, as E.M. Forster said, ‘Let us give two cheers for Democracy!’ He felt that was enough and reserved the third cheer for other things.