There isn’t any doubt with the fact that over the years, the percentage of electorate turning out to exercise their franchise has been falling at an increasing rate. And no one other than the political class needs to be blamed as to why such a large proportion of the electorate stands politically disengaged. And this trend, which in itself is not so encouraging, is most visible in urban India. Rightly so, for the informed and empowered urban India realizes how the political class has been continuously defeating the entire purpose of elections. But then, this has not been true for rural India!
It is rightly said that the rural heartland is actually the heart of political India. Therefore, anybody willing to make it big in his/her political career would have to necessarily make it big in the rural heartland. And that is the reason most of the political class routinely marches towards rural India, albeit only during elections. While the rest of the time, not many would be much interested about rural plight, come election time and things change for sure. The reason is quite simple. In India, it is the rural mass which ceremoniously votes. Unlike their urban counterparts, they are less informed, mostly illiterate, disempowered, and on top of that have not yet given up their hope on elections. And it is for the very same reasons that for a long period of time, rural India has also been a hotbed of election malpractices. Duping the gullible rural mass has not been much difficult and vote rigging has always been a common practice. Wherever other things failed, raw muscle power has been efficiently put to work, and democracy in rural India has always been reduced to mere tokenism.
Thankfully, in the last one decade, in some states, much of that has started to change on account of two important reasons. The first is the introduction of electronic voting machines – or the EVMs – which has not only revolutionized elections, at least in some states, but has also ensured transparency in voting to a large extent. Thanks to the sophistication of technology and the efficiency it brings with it, mass rigging in polling booths is now futile as the voting machine just records one vote every around 15 seconds. The second reason is the massive deployment of central paramilitary forces and micro-observers by the Election Commission, moves which further rule out the chances of voter coercion. There can be no doubt about the fact that the whole election process today is relatively more efficient and foolproof than what it was a decade and a half back.
Yet, the most unfortunate thing is that in spite of all these, the fate of the rural folk has not changed much. If the proactive measures of the Election Commission have given rural India some respite from the bloodsucking political class, then another monster of modern day India, i.e. Naxals – again created by the very same political class – has taken away their peace. The movement that started for the sake of bringing justice to the rural lot, who have been actually deprived for ages, has today become one of the biggest impediments to development in some of the remotest and most backward districts of India. Today’s shocking reality is that even though the government has realized the monster that they have created, they can’t do much about it. Rather, they have not done anything about it! It is so very tragic that particularly during elections, the Naxals or the Maoists have been ruthlessly killing poor innocent villagers as they get paranoid with the fact that voting would not only wean away the rural lot from them, but would also undermine their own hold in the regions where they hold sway. For the sake of holding on to power by spreading fear and false propaganda, Naxals today have gone to an extreme extent. In the past one month, they have killed more than 50 police personnel and are hell bent on destroying anything which is symbolic of India’s democracy and Constitution, or whatever is left of these. They don’t even mind conscripting young children as rebels; and instead of giving books in children’s hands, rifles are thrust upon them to kill without even knowing for what reason – not that any reason could ever be justifiable. Today, several parts of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar and Orissa have been transformed into war zones. Thousands of square miles of land have been plastered with landmines by the Naxals to prevent the paramilitary forces from coming in. Development has almost taken a backseat in most of these places.
All in all, it is most tragic that the most underprivileged rural India is perennially at the receiving end! No doubt, elections would become meaningful only the day that these rural folk can fearlessly visit voting booths and exercise their franchise. And the icing on the cake would be the day when they can vote not for an opportunist criminal, but for a leader who can give them back what they have deserved for generations!!!
- 14 May 2009 |
- Arindam on Indian Politics