Vox Populi, Vox Politic and Tyranny of the Vacuously Virtuous - The New Indian Express

Vox Populi, Vox Politic and Tyranny of the Vacuously Virtuous

Published: 27th April 2014 06:00 AM

Last Updated: 27th April 2014 12:46 AM

It was writer-thinker-anarchist Emma Goldman who famously said if voting changed anything, they would make it illegal. Well, sooner than later, somebody is bound to say if election campaigns actually informed the voters, they would make it illegal. Worse is the state of public discourse. Streaming live into living rooms, prejudice is masquerading as righteousness and the ludicrous is strutting as informed opinion.

Free will forms the bedrock of democracy. And the decision to vote—or not vote—is an expression of this will. That though is not how the virtuous view it. L K Advani would like the Election Commission to debar all those who do not vote from the electoral rolls.  Wider participation is no doubt desirable, but can it be by diktat? Where does that leave free will? The right to vote is not just about representation, it is an opinion, and hence this idea of Advani would also impinge the freedom of expression. The 2012 poll in the US was all about the economy. New York posted a turnout of 49 per cent—lower than the 59 per cent posted in 2008. Perhaps commercial capitals expect less out of politics. Whatever the reason, nobody said debar. Fact is, world over, turnouts range between 55 and 75 per cent, and however fashionable it may be to flash the finger, democracy cannot be reduced to a one-vote stand.

It wasn’t just Advani. The electorate of the virtuous has taken to berating communities—in Mumbai or Bangalore—for lower turnouts as if the turnout is a T-20 target. There were those—and these included quite a few educated illiterates of the page 3 type—who ranted that those who didn’t vote had no right to crib and complain. Really? Is governance available on vote? West Bengal routinely records turnouts of between 78-82 per cent. Has that helped those in the state crib and get better governance than those, say, in Gujarat? Incidentally, the flash-the-ink-mob is hardly visible during municipal polls. Does one argue that they should then not whine and whinge about the sordid stink?

The issue is further vexed by poor governance. Many of those who wanted to vote—apparently a few lakh—and who went to vote found their names missing. Yes, the voters must check; it is their vote and their obligation. It isn’t simply enough to play victim on polling day when the volunteerism this demands is not exercised when notices were issued. A larger issue is how come this has happened—so far—only in Maharashtra. More importantly: is this the best an IT superpower and housekeeper to the world do on a simple issue of maintaining lists?

Interestingly, the virtuous among the Vox Populi and Vox Politic are both obsessed about the consequence of higher turnout on poll outcomes. There is no study that can squarely relate turnouts to pro or anti-incumbent verdicts. Much of the theology is in the domain of fiction or at least mythology. While it may be true that regime changes have followed high turnout, it is also true that not every high turnout is followed by regime change. Voter turnout has been higher every poll in Madhya Pradesh since 2003, but BJP has been voted back. Ditto with Assam. Did Congress get elected in 2004 on higher turnout or lower turnout? And how do you estimate impact on a changing base?

There is no stopping the flow of bizarre ideas. Prithviraj Chavan wants regional parties to be excluded from Lok Sabha elections. The grand project assumes national parties—Congress, for instance—are better qualified to run the country. To expect regional parties to expect no role at the Centre is to dwell in delusion. Chavan may do well to remember that it is regional parties which have kept the Congress in power for 10 years at the Centre and 15 years in Maharashtra. Regional parties in India—whether in West Bengal, Odisha or Tamil Nadu—represent identity. Can India’s democracy sustain sans the preservation of diversity?

Through this poll season, Vox Politic has been hurtling downhill with a vengeance. There is Vox Ajit Pawar threatening voters with a no water fatwa and Vox Azam Khan communalising the martyrdom of armed forces. Then there is Vox Giriraj Singh who triggered a tsunami of dark humour on the social networks with his ‘those who oppose Modi must go to Pakistan’. The joke within the

BJP was that Giriraj was addressing those within, not those outside! This was followed by Vox Pravin Togadia who did not want Muslims to live in Hindu localities. Even as the party was recovering from these two, its cultural-turned-political ally Vox Baba Ramdev delivered a new controversy. What is shocking is not that they have said what they have said. What is shocking is that they know they can and will get away saying what they will. The UPA through the decade suffered a bi-polar disorder. Unless the maniacs are corralled, the NDA (when it comes to power) will have a multi-polar disorder.

Elections 2014 did promise to be different in tone and tenor. Campaigns are meant to foster debate and enable informed choice. Instead, voters have been served with the tyranny of expediency. Electorates of the virtuous—of the self-appointed and vacuous kind—are mushrooming at the scent of every divisive opportunity. The loony fringe cloaked in righteous rhetoric is occupying centre stage. 

Shankkar Aiyar is the author of Accidental India: A History of the Nation’s Passage through Crisis and Change


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