Most critical LS polls in a generation

Yes, we’ve all heard such trite hyperbole each time our 900-million strong voters go to the polls -- something like a concocted excitement one may witness before 543 high-profile UFC brawls. The 2019 voting season is witnessing political aspirants with entrenched ideologies, more disparate, more polarized than ever in recent memory. Hence, with the ‘idea of India’ at stake this time around, this Lok Sabha election may actually be deserving of the ‘once-in-a-generation’ hype.

Over the past five years, provocative questioning of one’s pro- and anti-national credentials has taken centre-stage, even rendering our institutions, our holy scriptures, the Constitution, susceptible. This election will determine our nation’s trajectory, whether we add fuel to the scorching fire of hate and division or, by opposing this trend, inundate our lands with the cooling waters of harmony in plurality. Thus, anyone who believes in preserving the foundations of our democracy must not only take time out to vote, but also ensure that her/his vote actually ‘counts.’

Elections, in our stratified nation riddled with class, caste, gender, and a myriad of hierarchies, stand out as the only moment we are all equal. A homeless nomadic woman in Yadgir has the same individual power on election day as the state’s home minister. The revolutionary notion that one person merits one vote regardless of identity or educational background is what makes the Indian framework robust.

Remember: the war for freedom did not end in 1947; instead, it merely shifted from colonial to democratic confines. To realise the equality and liberty enshrined in our Constitution, we must demand that the privileges so many of us take for granted reaches every Indian, from the beaches of Nicobar to the heights of the Himalayas: housing for all; universal healthcare; free education upto graduate level; and a basic, liveable income. Candidates willing to prioritize the improvement of human life as true development should be the ones we send to Parliament and not those whose only qualifications stem from their assets, influence, and/or family backing.

For such dreams to materialize, each individual must realize that binary political options both erode the very ethos of Indian democracy and leave the general public politically ‘lazy.’  In other words, the discourse should not be relegated to the selection of one or the other potential PM candidate, like much of the mainstream media makes it to be. Instead, the dialogue should be a more localized one where every citizen is well-informed to select a Member of Parliament (MP) aspirant who best represents the needs of the specific constituency.

A quick glance at the list of candidates reveals that each MP constituency has several candidates to choose from (57 in Belagavi!), all occupying diverse positions on the political spectrum with unique experiences and dreams. If we can’t find a good enough candidate to uphold the democratic values we treasure most, then perhaps enough time has not been spent searching and researching.

A society’s vulnerable, rather than the self-serving, must take primacy during the voting process. And that is especially true from the vantage point of us English-speaking, upwardly-mobile, home-owning types. Those who have gained more from society have the moral responsibility to give back more as well.  Hence, instead of voting on “how will this candidate benefit me?” it is time to vote based on “how will this candidate benefit the poor, the marginalized and the weakest amongst us.” Such a holistic vision would lay the building blocks for an egalitarian, role-model society.

Finally, election coverage in Karnataka over the past month or so has been disappointing and even farcical, since the substance has been completely stripped from the process. Take Mandya, for example. The two frontrunners are ideologically-vapid novices who have no social service experience and an even weaker acuity of grassroots Mandya realities, let alone solutions. Unfortunately, their irrelevant attributes, like kinship to known leaders, popular last names, silver-screen glamour and financial backing have catapulted them into the contest to enter Parliament.

What is even more shocking is that the mainstream media appears to deal with them both with kid gloves, throwing soft, irrelevant questions that cater to their mudslinging gusto, rather than hard-hitting questions that help citizens understand the candidates’ true intentions and vision. Those citizens from Mandya who intend to make a difference through their vote by opting for the most ‘deserving’ LS candidate should take a look at the other 19 contenders.

Our democratic duties do not take a five-year hiatus on May 23, 2019, once the Lok Sabha results have been announced. Instead, that date, when power shifts non-violently, reminds us that our struggle to uphold the core principles of our democracy, such as tolerance, diversity, secularism and socialism is imperative and ongoing. As John F. Kennedy once declared, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.’ The time to do has come. Let’s at least vote thoughtfully.

(The writer is an activist and actor)

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Most critical LS polls in a generation

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