Why Polls Matter

Elections are the only time the poor are centrestage, when they are heard

Written by Seema Chishti | Updated: October 8, 2016 8:41 am
rahul gandhi, rahul gandhi dalali, rahu gandhi comments, narendra modi, modi, pm modi, surgical strikes, uri attack, uri terror attack, latest news Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi (PTI Photo)

One could write a book on the significance of the place Rahul Gandhi chose to start his Kisan Yatra. Deoria is just 21 km from Buddha’s last resting place, it’s the place where Jawaharlal Nehru was arrested by the British and Chauri Chaura’s police station, burned down by angry peasants during Gandhi’s non-cooperation movement, is close by.

But what is significant is how farmers appeared to have grabbed news and space with political parties in close combat over who is pro or anti farmer. It happened last year too, in the run-up to the Bihar elections. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, deeply embedded in the campaign, was forced to turn to issues otherwise consigned to recesses of most news pages. Between Bihar and UP, the poorest persons in India got attention and mind-space. It is no coincidence, these issues come to the fore when citizens turn into voters and are readying to press the EVM buttons. But frequent elections have been eliciting frowns recently. They are “costly”, widen the “governance deficit” and going to the people “so frequently” distracts from work. In March, at a closed door party meeting, the PM reportedly spoke of the need to get India to move to a one-election mode. It was reported that simultaneous elections to local bodies, assemblies and Parliament will save money and time. He is said to have spoken about political workers “spending a lot of time electioneering” and as a result, getting “less time for social work.”

Parliament’s Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice submitted its report on the Feasibility of Holding Simultaneous Elections to House of People (Lok Sabha) and State Legislative Assemblies on December 17, 2015. The committee argued that simultaneous polls for the Lok Sabha and state assemblies would reduce the “massive expenditure” that is currently incurred for the conduct of separate elections, end the “policy paralysis” that results from the imposition of the Model Code of Conduct during election time, reduce the impact on delivery of essential services and also the burden on crucial manpower deployed during election time. The “pragmatism” of this suggestion was countered when the report became public, as the bunching of assembly elections to all states proposed in “two phases” was cited as wildly impractical.

However, this unease with elections is worth examining. There is a suggestion on how elections itself are an anathema to “development”. If settled once, why keep “going to the people”? This idea is neither novel nor surprising. In 1975 too, it signalled a break in the election calendar of India. Slogans of the time explained the idea of discipline, order and administrative efficiency sought to be streamlined under the Emergency, with elections as something to be avoided till people knew better.

When the Constitution was being debated, universal adult franchise was not a foregone conclusion. A section held that only people who were graduates/propertied/ moneyed should be allowed to vote. So what we take for granted now, was not always a given. For most Indians, it is their only chance to assert equality and comment on public policy. Plenty of anger at India’s inability to deal with social and economic inequality has been voiced, but the fundamental equality of One Person, One Vote must not be underplayed in that process. This is a point most poignantly visible in long queues at the polling booths during election time in poorer areas. Elections remain the most powerful and decisive way in which people can speak and make a difference. To see them as inconvenient is not a politically neutral idea.

It might be more democratic to factor in rolling election results as inputs to policy, to welcome local campaigns as theatres where policy is articulated and debates are framed. Till we get a better way of gauging how India is responding to its ruling party’s policies or the Opposition’s efficacy, watching Rahul Gandhi in UP triggering a debate on the lives of those who sit on khaats or walk off with them or how Amit Shah is received differently in Gujarat, in each trip necessitated because of periodic elections, is the best way to sense the mood of the nation.

seema.chishti@expressindia.com

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  1. H
    Hemant Kumar
    Oct 8, 2016 at 2:02 pm
    This writer is afraid of Modi / BJP occupying both centre and states in case of simultaneous elections in the way a mother tells her crying baby BETA SAU JA GABBAR AA JAYEGA.
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      K SHESHU
      Oct 8, 2016 at 6:43 pm
      As long as people are lookrd upon as voting trees democracy in India will remain a mirage
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        Bhagwat Goel
        Oct 8, 2016 at 3:56 am
        JAWAHAR LAL NEHRU OVER 55 YEARS BACK PRONOUNCED THAT COMMUNISTS ARE TRAITORS SHOULD BE HANGED ON FIRST AVAILABLE POLE.NOW SAME JAWAHAR LAL NEHRU IS GUIDE AND MENTOR OF COMMUNISTS. HANGING OF SEEMA CHISTI,HER HUSBAND SITARAM YACHURI AND OTHER COMMUNISTS NEED TO BE HANGED TO SAVE POOR.
        Reply
        1. S
          Sreenivasan
          Oct 8, 2016 at 10:44 am
          Right you are. Election time is the only time when we poor people are remembered by the rulers. I want to add one more thing to it. When they start walking towards an important election, our soldiers are killed by intruders or enemy soldiers of a country where enemy community people are in majority. This help fanning up our pseudo patriotic feelings among the voters and the government get the advantage over their opposition. This trick is also manifested in the sweeping majority Rajiv hi got on an election conducted when sympathy wave was strong in his favour (a minority community was held responsible for the murder of Mrs Indira hi by us). In politics the parties keep some issues always unresolved. Because their very existence is based on those issue. If there was no Muslim stan as our neighbor and a some people in India shares the same religious belief, some of the political parties would not have been there in India. They exist playing their trump cards on the minorities (in a democracy majority is important as everything is decided by votes) and will continue to do the same. So, our border with stan will always be porous.
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            k.a.krishna rao
            Oct 8, 2016 at 6:00 pm
            A high school level essay by Seema Chishti.....Glad that at least that level is maintained....
            Reply
            1. K
              Kamal Kishore
              Oct 8, 2016 at 2:40 am
              Seema chisti is the wife of sitaram yechuri and runs IE. That explains anti hindu leanings of IE. lt;br/gt;Coming bac to this article, where r the facts and data to prove your points ? Just a verbal vomit. Proves your IQ.
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                DILIP
                Oct 8, 2016 at 7:34 am
                SAve all these plaudes, poor heart bleeding, sanctimonious hypocrisy, moral double dealing and justifying evil vile bankrupt discredited communism. Easiest way to eradicate poverty and hunger is to incinerate all the commies, socialist goons and the left wind bags PERIOD, I say that with utter confidence.
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                  Pradeep
                  Oct 8, 2016 at 7:07 pm
                  Elections are there only festivals uniformly enjo by all their people's across them country or states irrespective of one's religion caste or colour or creed so such festivals should be enjo as many possible times as possible. If one can spend thousands of rupees in so many festivals in Indian culture what is wrong in spending countries funds in their festival of democracy.
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                    Ramesh Chhabra
                    Oct 8, 2016 at 4:01 pm
                    What is price of bread which consumer has to pay. This bread is less in weight, costly, with subsidy to manufacturer. We are using poor an umbrella for elections. If our election system is too costly, why not minor amendment is done in our representation act. This minor amendment will save thousands of crores of exchequer.
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                      Sitaram
                      Oct 19, 2016 at 2:07 am
                      Politicians and media are the first beneficiaries of Elections - they feed off each other!
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                      1. S
                        sai ansh
                        Oct 8, 2016 at 7:21 pm
                        Have the lot of the poor improved in the past 70 years of continuous elections? Esp. when we compare to other countries in Asia? Keep framing debates, dear writer!
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                        1. S
                          Sawan
                          Oct 8, 2016 at 3:28 pm
                          Political fortunes are not permanent. What happens if Mr Modi's policies do not remain por? Or, when another leader gains centre stage? Would you still want all states to vote as one and with the Centre? Democracy does not thrive on conformity. It thrives on dissent and differences and a hearing of the voices of different people, especially the marginalised one.
                          Reply
                          1. S
                            Sawan
                            Oct 8, 2016 at 3:32 pm
                            You comment is no better. What facts and Data do you want on a topic like this, please enumerate so that you may be obliged.
                            Reply
                            1. S
                              SP
                              Oct 8, 2016 at 6:11 am
                              In reality poor are pampered for votes and rich are humoured for Notes. It is the middle cl which gets ignored - they are not united and many don't vote. In the name of poor, lot of middlemen, politician and officials become rich. Today many of our politicians are Crorepatis - some do nothing but politics and some use political links to get rich. This is yet another socialistic lament. If many subsidies and schemes in the name of poor are eliminated and they are given some cash transfers, country can cut out lot of middle-men and waste. Then there needs to be focus on training and employment generation. We also have an imbalance where many in organized sector get more as they are unionized.
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                                Daisy boy
                                Oct 8, 2016 at 9:16 am
                                khoon ki dalaali, that began from 2001 is continuing unabated as it has proven vote catcher successfully.
                                Reply
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