How to get bejewelled balloters to the booth

Diamond and platinum brands are well advised to sell this idea to the powers that be.
Actor Dhanush poses after voting during the 2024 Lok Sabha Elections in Chennai
Actor Dhanush poses after voting during the 2024 Lok Sabha Elections in ChennaiFile Photo | PTI

South Bengaluru, south Chennai, south Delhi, south Mumbai, south Kolkata. There is something special about the southern parts of Indian metros that makes the affluent stay there. Quite the contrast from the laggard Global South. The problem with what we might call India’s Urban South is that they don’t like lifestyle disruptions like voting at elections. We have seen that this year in the constituencies of Chennai South and Bengaluru South, both of which saw less than 55 percent voters showing up.

I am tempted to bet their Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai counterparts may try to match them in low turnouts. Not even the talk of a never-proposed but much-disposed inheritance tax may shake them from their electoral slumber, unless you think out of the ballot box.

About 15 years ago, a friend listed in jest 10 reasons why Mumbai South’s elite voters didn’t show up to vote in 2009. Two reasons stood out: no valet parking, and they didn’t want to stand in the same queue as their household help. You’ve got to say bye-bye to voting if you spot your bai out there.

In the best tradition of Indian-style innovation, I am thinking of ways to end such apathy. While at that, I am also intrigued by the tendency of Indians in general and the affluent in particular to splurge or lose money through various endeavours while hating the thing called tax.

It’s not a condition peculiar only to India. The Beatles sang in their 1966 song, ‘Taxman’: ‘Now my advice for those who die (taxman) / Declare the pennies on your eyes (taxman) / Cause I’m the taxman / Yeah, I’m the taxman / And you’re working for no one but me (taxman).’

Even before the Fab Four, Bollywood’s Kishore Kumar sang in 1954: ‘Kuchh income tax le jaata hai / Kuchh beewi udaati hai (Some money is taken away by income tax / and some blown up by the wife).’ Later, in 1970, when tax raids happened on film stars, he sang: ‘Nagad naayan ke sab yaar / In sabke pichhe pad gaya income tax / Are bam-bam naache Kishore Kumaram (Everybody is a friend of the god of bucks / The income tax is after their backs / and Kishore Kumar dances bam-bam).’

But then, tax and voting are different things for celebrities. These days movie stars vote in style. Queues are bent for them so they can do the celeb act: posing for cameras in designer shades with ink on their forefingers. For all we know, they might be imagining showing a middle finger to politicians, but what we see is what we think we get.

But stars and tycoons need to be treated with deference to make them part with cash. The poor can be made to part with cash through offerings made to astrologers and priests in exchange for the fulfilment of their wishes. The middle class can be had with get-rich-quick schemes in everything from unreliable chit-fund schemes to dud shares, and if they are techno-hip, through cyber frauds and crypto scams.

The truly rich won’t fall for all this. Some of them got rich in the first place by partly or wholly trying some of the tricks mentioned above (occasionally described in boardrooms as ‘strategy’). We need to reverse-swing this whole business with some designer jugaad. We need to take a leaf out of their books and charm them into doing unto the taxman what some of them do unto their clients and, sometimes, shareholders or bankers.

What I suggest to counter electoral apathy in the Urban South is a Premium Voting Lounge, much like those fancy corners in airports or plush hotels. You have to pay so that you don’t have to stand in queues, certainly not with your helps. You have sofas in air-conditioned waiting areas. The electronic voting machines flash a welcome message after a welcome drink. And yes, you can pose for a selfie with your EVM and pay a service charge (GST extra). Valet parking, of course, is included.

There you have it. Farmhouse parties in Delhi and bashes in Malabar Hill will never be the same again. Page 3 smiles and Instagram videos will complete the picture. Bejewelled balloters will happily part with a lakh or two if they are told that voting is not an act of duty but a style statement.

I can imagine Ms Chopra in South Delhi doing a pre-election photoshoot as well. If she is complimented later about having lost weight, she might even reply: “You see, I have been exercising my franchise.”

Diamond and platinum brands are well advised to sell this idea to the powers that be. Fingers are meant to hold expensive rocks, not just press an EVM button. An election symbol can now be transformed into a status symbol. If the Unique Identification Authority cooperates, designer Aadhaar cards with filter-fixed photos won’t be a bad idea either, though immigration officials may object.

The wealthy are not fools who part easily with their money. They would rather pay for a holiday home they will never stay in, or do a 50-50 deal with a suitable deity than pay inheritance tax. The government is well advised to hire consultants of the premium variety to do something about this. Smart consultants don’t come cheap.

(Views are personal)

(On X @madversity)

Madhavan Narayanan | Senior journalist

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