Hope around the corner...

Hope around the corner...

Hope around the corner...

It’s another torrid Indian summer, and the heat and dust raised every year seems heightened by the din and bustle of the elections to the Lok Sabha. They are usually hot and suffocating, these summers in our country, and everything seems tired and jaded.

Yet, amidst the rising temperatures, it would seem that winds of change are blowing — the voters are displaying unmistakable signs of optimism and enthusiasm. And it is not just wishful thinking or fond fantasy — the usual cynicism seems missing.

The announcement of the polling dates by the Election Commission (EC) in the sweltering heat would have caused, in earlier times, a contemptuous curl of the lip, and the weather would have helped the sapling of pessimism to flourish. But not this time.

Across the country, when the dates were announced, there was a general stirring. Electoral identity cards were located, dusted off, checked. People were discussing politics and candidates with a sense of purpose. It was not like this in earlier years. The scenario used to be rather dull and despairing.

The only ones to become excited were politicians, party workers, car, SUV and helicopter rental companies, psephologists, opinion and exit poll outfits, and of course the print and television journalists. The general populace would glare at the TV while the announcement was being made, shrug their shoulders, and continue their life with mutterings of “what is the point” or “there is no hope for this country,” and other remarks along similar lines. But this time there seems to be some positive energy.

The EC had announced dates for people to check their voters’ list and apply for inclusion. All over the country, hordes of people landed up at the designated centres, anxiously looking for their names, and filling in application forms to register themselves.

Many went online to hunt for their names. In Bangalore alone, 80,000 voters registered themselves on a single day across the City’s three Lok Sabha constituencies. In all, 2 lakh voters have been added since the registration drive began — a tremendous response. Keen voters, who want to see what their candidates have to offer, are attending election debates in large numbers. Television channels, both vernacular as well as English, are also organising debates that are being closely watched.

The youth, generally a missing factor in elections, seem to be showing clear signs of interest, judging by their presence at the registration drives. They seem to be all fired up to go and vote, and hopefully the percentage of youngsters going out to vote this time around will be refreshingly higher.

It is not as if the political parties have suddenly transformed themselves into angelic entities, although the entry of a certain new outfit has certainly stirred things up. It would seem as though the people have told themselves that enough is enough, that this time they would vote decisively. And even before the actual voting date, there has been a huge outcry on the social media platforms when unsuitable candidates with a dubious track record were either given tickets to contest the polls or granted memberships, forcing the red-faced parties to backtrack hastily.

This is new. In the past, such things would be part of the pessimistic under-the-breath mutterings, and quietly accepted.

There is also a quiet change happening at the ground level — NGOs, in collaboration with the EC, are making sure the old names on the voters’ lists are deleted. This is part of the Indian election system, when people shift residences or migrate from Cities — their names are never deleted. While there is much focus on adding to lists, not much attention is paid to invalid names.

These ‘phantom lists’ are quietly retained, and misused by political parties who blatantly use impersonators to get more votes. (All that last minute ‘rush’ to vote at the end of the day, just before polling closes — you and me know what is happening. This bogus voting may soon become a thing of the past.) The deletion of invalid names will also mean a better and more correct percentage of people coming to vote.

In Bangalore, an NGO has been working quietly to clean up voters’ lists. They managed to add 1.5 lakh candidates, while deleting names that had become invalid. Their volunteers faced resistance and even threats from political outfits. But the political workers had to back off when they saw that they meant business.

The citizens in the ward, who were observing all this, seemed more determined than ever to go out and vote. Many such quiet agents of change are getting the voters more involved in the democratic process. And in time, these ‘phantom lists’ will disappear, if the EC persists with its countrywide exercise, making it easier to genuinely elect somebody.

Rural areas have never hesitated to go out and vote. Usually it is the cynical urban counterpart that turns its nose up at going out and voting. But those worn clichés, ‘urban voter apathy’ and ‘poor urban turnout’ seem set for a change.

After this polling date, it does really seem that the un-inked finger will no longer be proudly displayed. It’s no longer ‘cool’ to do so. In fact, it might be a safe bet to say that many will be hiding their finger in embarrassment if they didn’t go out and vote. Yes, there is a buzz in the air…

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