I swore to myself that I would steer clear of politics on this platform but somehow it is impossible to talk about India without doing this. So I’m going to make the best effort to be as objective as possible by sticking to the subject of voting and responsible citizenship.
The 2019 Lok Sabha election is going to be my first one. I’m harbouring an immense amount of excitement for the big day I get to punch into an EVM, get my finger inked and feel the power of a democracy.
Without doubt this is an important election with high stakes for all. The average citizen is being bombarded from all angles; politicians thundering promises at rallies and plastering their pictures and promises on billboards, bus stops and at any unavoidable public spaces; over-zealous media working overtime to build propaganda that is rarely based on facts to sway voters towards the political parties funding them; anyone and everyone with a smartphone using social media and Whatsapp to share stories that fit with their ideologies.
Where once I was certain of my stance as an NRI, now I find myself in a constant dilemma trying to figure out what is right for us as a nation. I can only conclude that forming an ideology that benefits everyone is impossible. There are too many classes of people facing infinite challenges and as an urban dweller who does not visit slums, towns, villages, I can only see the tip of the miserable iceberg.
For all the manifesto promises being hurled at us, I am cautious about using them as deciding factors. I neither believe in the use of religion to fuel hatred and nationalism or the poverty alleviation quick-fix of a ‘minimum income’ to a selected strata of poor people. Hence, my anticipation towards voting day has churned into anxiety as I feel the burden of making the informed, responsible and objective choice.
In a quest to empower myself with more information, I joined some active communities in my area in Bengaluru. Some work with animal rescue, some share community events to engage children, some discuss issues related to water, sanitation and roadwork. I learnt a bunch of things (I know some of these might be very basic but nevertheless sharing this for the benefit of other possibly ignorant souls like myself):
- All about my ward and constituency.
- How to check that my Voter ID is listed on the electoral roll.
- Who my corporator and MLA are, how to approach them with grievances.
- How to file an RTI
- How to build effective petitions related to issues affecting public welfare.
- All about the B.Pac (Bangalore Politican Action Committee) – a non-partisan citizen’s group that aims to improve governance in Bengaluru and to enhance the quality of life of every Bengalurean.
- All about the Election Habba, a B.Pac initiative that aspires to build awareness of the electoral process and facilitate active citizen participation.
So I’d like to talk more about the Election Habba because this was sort of a game changer for me where I really began to understand the election process, candidates and their achievements, feasibility of promises etc.
On the 8th of April I attended a ‘Citizens Meet Candidates’ session for the Bengaluru Parliamentary constituency organized by B.PAC as part of the Election Habba agenda. It was a well-charted session with a clear agenda that gave the candidates the opportunity to present an introduction, field audience questions and engage in constructive debates with their opponents.
There were a few disappointments; of the 3 candidates- only the candidate running independently turned up on time, the Congress candidate came a half hour late and the incumbent MP representing the BJP did not attend at all; several of the questions raised by a fairly knowledgeable audience were answered with fluff, not facts; the moderator shut down overly grievant questions that challenged the parties.
After returning home, I read more about the candidates in the news, social media and the Bengaluru Citizen Matters platform and am in a much better position to make a decision on the 18th of April.
One major takeaway from this event was that voting is only the beginning. Elected representatives need to be held accountable throughout their term by proactive citizens (Disclaimer: This perspective is of a privileged urbanite and I am not in a position to factor the needs of the urban poor and villagers.)
In my personal experience with local communities, I have been impressed how much time people have invested in cleaning garbage on the roads and at parks, chasing the BBMP for better water access, moving bee hives, setting up water bowls for thirsty birds and street dogs. In fact our ward was even able to convince the corporator to allot space for a community-managed dog park. There are monthly garbage and water council meetings held over the weekends.
Reigning parties have zero motivation to be transparent about their spending and decisions. And the opposition is usually more concerned with finding ways to wrestle power instead of providing constructive criticism. Hence, it is up to us to find ways to engage with and drive our corporators, MLAs and MPs.
There is a fair amount of cynicism and rage expressed towards the state that India is in right now. I feel it too. Corruption, patriarchy, blatant disrespect towards the environment, caste discrimination, the ever-widening income and class gaps, decades of elected leaders who have pillaged tax-payers’ contributions. And how can I forget the thread that binds them all – ignorance and apathy.
The system feels broken beyond repair. Given that we are in times where masses of votes are bought with biriyani or booze, I wonder if my vote even matters. But I have to believe in the power of incremental change. I have to believe that complaining is just an excuse to hold oneself back from trying to find solutions. I have to believe that the crores of Indians who stood patiently in ATM queues, with the futile belief that they were helping fight corruption, can come together for greater things.
Believing feels like a good place to start.