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Rs 100,a sari,a bottle

That’s all Hazare says a vote means. Who gains from such disdain for democracy?

Written by The Indian Express |
April 12, 2011 2:49:15 am

Anna Hazare made an odd statement. He explained that he would never seek to contest an election because he would lose — indeed,forfeiting his deposit,as the “ordinary voter does not have awareness. They cast their vote under the influence of Rs 100 or a bottle of liquor or a sari offered by candidates. They don’t understand the value of their vote.” The line between this disdain for the voter that Hazare expressed and the belief that he can nominate a committee to draft a bill is clear and damning. This institutionalises the contempt for established parliamentary democracy that Hazare has revealed,one he shares with those in the Indian urban elite who do not trust a state that rests on the votes of the poor and “illiterate” — votes they imagine are cast thoughtlessly and for a bribe. How much more efficient if these voters were reined in properly! What sensible governance could then be!

An echo of South Mumbai’s post-26/11 “secession” refrain,this anti-democratic,anti-poor message was unfortunately,and hopefully unwittingly,hammered in during Hazare’s press conference. He reminded us of his long campaign against voting machines,implying that elections were not won legitimately. He spoke out for the right to recall representatives — which would topple India’s hard-won political stability. Even while showing disdain for the voters’ wisdom,he yet demanded that voting should be compulsory,or at least that those who do not vote should lose access to public services. He claimed that voters should have the right to choose “none of the above” when they vote. But why should they want to choose that? Obviously,none of the above will not get them “Rs 100 or a bottle of liquor or a sari”. The contradictions are obvious; the only thing more obvious is how Hazare is,hopefully unthinkingly,playing into an elitist disdain for parliamentary process. The most glaring contradiction: if 80 crore Indians — the number of voters — are so corrupt as to be bought for Rs 100,which Jan Lokpal will clean things up?

Of course,it is not a contradiction if one understands that such thinking holds in contempt everything that parliamentary democracy can deliver. Hence the elite’s adoption of Hazare — these sentiments are so similar to the “we-won’t-pay-taxes” rhetoric in Mumbai after the terror strike. Of late,some of India’s elite,egged on by sundry babas and “spiritual” leaders,have hankered to cut democratic empowerment out,to rein in the choices of the poor. It is similar to the anger against reservation and affirmative action for disadvantaged classes,which was also expressed in terms of a yearning for good governance. The language of these activists could so easily turn against the people for whom they claim to speak.

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