Colonel Shiv Choudhary (Retd)
It is election season in India and about 900 million Indians including 38325 trans genders, 71737 oversea and 15 million first time voters — more than the population of all the countries of Europe combined, are casting their votes to select a new federal government. We are inevitably hearing earnest pleas for everyone to vote since voter participation is vital and an inescapable duty to achieve goal of election. We also know that in a democracy voting, it is utterly unlikely that an individual vote may or may not influence a large-scale election; the majority decision of all individual voters will do so. As long as we have free elections, no rulers will have dictatorial power. They may get what they want, but only to the tolerance limits of voting majority. The biggest question is why the voting percentage remains significantly low despite every possible effort by the Election Commission of India (ECI).
Some of the reasons for not voting include wide spread impression that one vote won’t count, too busy, long queue, non registration, confusion, apathetic voters, disliking for candidates, frequent elections, poor delivery record, corrupt political culture, distances and voter intimidation. We should know that even a single vote is crucial. AR Krishnamurhthy of JD (S) lost to R Dhruvanarayan of Congress by just one vote in the Karnataka assembly elections of 2004. There are four more instances. Also remember the Gore V. Bush scandal in Florida? That was decided by a small number of votes. Each vote irrespective of status carries same value.
If you are passionate about issues like corruption, Lokpal, social security, climate change, environment, education, LGBT, capital punishment, terrorism, national security, housing, pollution, women empowerment, future generations, jobs, health care, economy, accountability, wars and military affairs that dominate the political discourse, here is an opportunity for your say. It is you the youngsters, who will go to war, win, die and sustain injuries, not the politicians. Voting is a way to honor those soldiers and martyrs who have fought to get us sovereignty and constitution. Voting gives you the opportunity to help pay that debt.
Unfortunately, carelessly or notoriously, the millennials neglect the importance of voting without realizing its value for them. No situation would be changed by sitting idle while others decide your future. Youth voters who want to inspire change need to vote. There is a need for “Vote Early, Vote Must”. The collective “youth vote” could actually sway the election. You don’t want to vote for any of the lesser evils, but not voting is potentially allowing the greater evil to win. Not voting is no expression of your resentment against political class or its incompetency or competency. Indeed it reflects your poor concern for elections and its outcome. As an eligible voter, you are an adult with responsibilities, and voting comes with powerful responsibility.
In 2014 elections, 28 cr registered voters, did not vote. Perhaps no country in the world has these many votes. World second largest democracy USA had only 181 million regd voters in their presidential election in 2016. So 281 million not voting means whole nation did not vote. Think why such a huge number did did not vote or they could not be careless. Under British rule, Indian population was 30 cr, means the entire India as in 1946-47 did not vote. Were they all in hospitals / travelling? No. It could be apathy, NOTA, falling political culture, murky politics and all candidates looking chips of the same flock.
There has been lot of discussions on compulsory voting including setting up of Dinesh Goswami Committee (1990), introduction of Compulsory Voting Bill, 2004 by Mr. Bachi Singh Rawat and a Pvt Bill by Mr JP Agarwal in 2009. Certain countries like Australia along with several countries in South America including Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia totaling about 13 percent have a provision for compulsory voting while democracies like the UK, USA, Germany, Italy and France have a system of voluntary voting. Some may term compulsory voting a violation of fundamental rights, while every individual should be able to choose to vote or not.
The trend analysis which guides party spin doctors where to target their advertising dollars generally miss the youth because the youth vote is small on a demographics collard and is not factored in. Youth can keep them on their toes, shock them into the 21st century if gets out and votes. A democratic government by, for and of the people cannot work without the people. Democracy thrives on voters. The more the like-minded voters there, the louder their voice grows. If there is one thing that is really annoying to us actual voters, it is the endless ramblings and cribbing about any government of the day. If you don’t vote you really have no right to complain about government decisions that you don’t like or how much it sucks.
India’s elections represent the world’s largest democratic exercise. India has today nearly 1950 registered political parties and 464 fielded their candidates in 2014. A whooping amt of 38.70 billion rupees was spent so that 834 million electorates could choose their representative from 8,251 candidates. Along with this, 3.7 million polling staff, 550,000 security personnel, 56 helicopters and 570 special trains were deployed. There was also be use of camels, planes, boats, elephants, oxygen cyl, torches, winter clothing and packed food moving in the snow-capped Himalayan mountains, Arabian Sea, plains, desert and deep forests. The party symbols will range from bananas, comb to arrows. ECI ensures setting up of polling stations in a manner that not a single voter needs to travel beyond 2 km, be it Gir forest or hazardous hills of Garhwal. In 2019, the ECI will mobilize 11 million officials to conduct the election. It will use 39.6 lakh EVMs which includes 17.4 lakh VVPAT (Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trail) spread over 10,35,918 polling stations. Here lies the need for all qualified voters to exercise their power.
Political parties and candidates aggressively use new technology and social media to preach and reach the voters. Technology and biometric seeding are the solutions. USA has 27 states and everyone can cast an absent ballot. In UK, you can post by post if you are from home or abroad. In Canada, if you are out, your name can be regd in domestic migrant register or international register. Postal ballots are available on demand in Germany.
The moot question before the nation is, if we really need to spend so much money, time, efforts, manpower and other resources for mobilization and conduct of elections in this digital era? Over 430 million Indians own smart phones, half a billion use the Internet, 300 million use fb, 200 million send messages on WhatsApp and 30 million are on Twitter. Countless Indian may be on the move for jobs, travelling, duties, social calling and education. So are our banks accounts which automatically move with us since a large number carry out all financial transactions while on move through mobile Numbers. Looks the only thing which is tied to our place is our right to voting. This outdated rule is denying billions of voters from democratic process. It is time to adapt to new modes of voting to surpass current national average of 55-60 to near 90 percent. We are seeking voting right for NRIs but we don’t spare a thought for people in India who are willing but unable to vote. Yes, the possible misuse of these platforms more so by ruling parties will remain a significant challenge for the ECI.
All qualified voters need to appreciate the huge stake saddled with not voting. Voting is both a duty and privilege that comes with democracy. The nations’ future is in your votes. It is thus important to make an informed choice, plan for casting invaluable vote on voting day, know the voting centre and reach there at no cost for the biggest aim. Your country is your home and every voter deserves to have a say in what kind of home your next generation should inherent. The success lies in your hands and urging others to vote too. It is time for celebration, feel proud, inking your finger and a public holiday too.
Colonel Shiv Choudhary (Retd)