Vinita Deshmukh's editorial on voter apathy
2009-05-01 01:12:00 GMT
Dear Friends, Even Mumbai terror hasn't shaken us to go in large numbers and vote. Out criminal habit of wanting ``others to do something'' while we sit comfortably at homes and perform the role of arm-chair activists was once again displayed when even Mumbai voted below 50 per cent and so did Bangalore and Pune. Do we have the right to crib about politicians? Following is my editorial which has appeared in the Intelligent Pune issue of May 1.
Forty-year-old Sunil Haribhau Ware is a rickshaw driver in Pune, since the last seven years. I asked him whether he cast his vote. He said ‘yes.’ Which was his polling booth? He replied, "Shingapur in Purandar taluka which comes under Baramati constituency (50 odd kms from Pune).’’ So, did he sacrifice his bread winning day to go and vote? "Yes,’’ he replied. "I took a ST bus early morning and was back in Pune by 3 pm. At least 30 people from my village travelled from various parts of Maharashtra to come and cast their vote. Our village registered 62 per cent voting.’’
Ware may be illiterate but he is educated enough to understand the significance and the spirit of participating in this crucial democratic process of electing the government. He didn’t mind spending Rs.50 for the ST fare and forfeiting nearly a day which would have earned him at least Rs.200.
Pitch this against the great cultural, educational and prosperous city of Pune where the voting was a pathetic 40 per cent – a seven per cent slide since the last Lok Sabha elections of the year 2004. Coming as these elections did against the backdrop of the 26/11 Mumbai terror which had made Puneites eloquent than never before about criminal, callous and useless politicians, the logical sequel was to be a large turnout of voters. Also, the fact that six lakh new voters were registered in Pune since the last elections and these mostly comprised the youth which is generally alert and alive to the quality of life it wants, the voting numbers were expected to go high. Also, the vociferous campaigns by NGOs and the print and electronic media were geared towards stripping off lethargy of the educated class, when it comes to choosing a well deserving political candidate.
To further woo the voters, the Pune district collector used a special clause to declare a holiday for all government and private organisations and stated action against any employer who came in the way of the employee’s voting.
For the first time perhaps, Puneites had an `educated’ choice in candidates like the veteran Suresh Kalmadi, a former Air Force officer; Anil Shirole, a law graduate; Arun Bhatia, a former IAS officer and a second time runner; Vikram Bokey, a former IPS officer; Ranjit Shirole, a double graduate and D S Kulkarni who may not have academic qualifications but has a respectful image. Okay, let’s say none of these candidates appealed to many - still they could have shown their participation by visiting the polling booth getting their finger marked with the ink and then just turning away. Instead, 10-lakh-odd Puneites preferred to turn their backs and lost a vital chance to elect the government they want. Now, they have no right to crib about the quality of politicians and governance in the country.
This indifference towards voting in Pune, so also in Bangalore- the two civic conscious cities- is rude and shocking. One wonders whether the educated want it this way- breed in the corrupt system for one’s selfish motives and conveniences but put up a façade of moralistic values. The educated find it so cool to be arm chair activists - just cry hoarse within the four walls of one’s home or parties saying "something should be done about it (meaning somebody else should do it). Or now in the Internet age, be content by participating in e-discussion groups and surfing through relevant websites and posting e-comments. Even the deadly 26/11 terror and unprecedented recession did not shake them up, just like politicians who are thick-skinned to such calamities. They know public memory is very short, which has proved right once again!
Okay, there has been a lot of hue and cry about people who went to the polling booth and either spent hours to search their names and the polling booth or found that their names were missing. Barring a minute percentage where the administration goofed up, most of the cases pertained again to our illiteracy and apathy towards the voting process.
Since October 2008, the district collectorate has been appealing time and again through the media, to get their names verified. More so, because of the delimitation process - this means carving out assembly constituencies in a way that all of them are balanced, population wise. Which also means, that your traditional polling booths have changed and perhaps your constituency too. Pune’s assembly constituencies increased from five to 11, so the voter’s list was re-adjusted accordingly. For example, I was earlier in the Parvati constituency and my polling booth was a school in Maharshinagar but when I checked my name I found that I have been shifted to the Cantonment constituency and my polling booth is now a school in Salisbury Park. If I had not checked and gone by my traditional polling booth, obviously I would have wasted hours finding my booth as the presiding officer on the voting day would be equipped with only the list of that particular polling booth. Nevertheless, the administration needs to answer the question of why the supplementary list comprising 65,000 new voters never made it to the voter’s list, thus depriving first time voters of their right to vote.
Another glaring reason was the complete disinterest amongst political parties themselves. The collector had 10 meetings since October 2008, apprising them of the drastic change of polling booths and in constituencies of the voters; however none of the political parties bothered to make their voters aware. Also, the chits issued by political parties door-to-door with your names and numbers before the polling day, were far and few between. So, voters depending on this traditional pampering too suffered at the polling booth or did not go at all.
How bad is it not to vote? As bad as not standing for the National Anthem! Let’s not cry over spilt milk - let’s gear up for the assembly elections this September!
Prabhat Newspaper Group
304 Narayan Peth