Yet Another Farce Comes To An End
The election results for the 15th Lok Sabha are out. Some are jubilant. Some are crestfallen. New faces will be seen in the cabinet. The heads of prominent losers will roll. Over the next few days there will be party meetings and meetings for a party. Congratulatory greetings will be sent to the victors. Some sober losers will use the time to self-introspect. New alliances will be forged. Some old ones will be discarded. And finally, the UPA will form the government with Dr. Manmohan Singh as the Prime Minister. And another 5 years will go on till the next elections (unless something drastic changes the course of India’s polity, of course). But what happens to the ‘Aam Aadmi’?
No, the Aam Aadmi does not refer to those chic youth of Mumbai or Delhi who find so much space in the IBNs and the Times Nows. My Aam Aadmi refers to those millions of Indians who have benefited the least from the economic policies of the previous governments and are unlikely to from the current one’s either. These people who comprise the majority of India’s populace, unfortunately have minimal space in the media (but if Aishwarya Bachchan itches her nose, its national news). What has elections done for these people?
A cotton farmer who cast his vote in Vidharba would probably go back to his impoverished home, commit suicide and become a statistic in some report of Sainath in the future. A Dalit woman in Haryana would’ve been raped by upper caste villagers the day after she cast her vote – she would have little hope for justice no matter who represents her constituency. The agricultural labourer in Orissa who cast her vote on April 23rd would probably see her daughter die out of disease on May 23rd for the simple reason that there were no public healthcare facilities anywhere nearby and the nearest private clinic was too expensive for her. The people of some districts in Tamil Nadu voted and toppled some Congress giants in their strongholds for the Eelam cause – but of what use now? The people of Kashmir would’ve voted, secretly hoping for a referendum on their status in the near future. I do not know why those in the North East or those under Salwa Judum territory even vote. Procedural democracy in India exists – whether it is substantive is a question that requires answers.
A recent report by Sainath in a daily newspaper revealed that voting in Mumbai was only 41.41% this time. Mumbai. The city that never sleeps. The city of Bollywood. The city of some of the richest men in the country. The city of Mukesh Ambani’s 600 crore home And the city that houses the largest slum in Asia. Over 50% of Aamchi Mumbai’s residents live in the slums. And it was these people who formed the bulk of those who cast their votes. Uh..oh. What happened to the youth of those posh colleges of Mumbai who took out candlelight vigil protests against the 26-11 attacks on the Taj and the Oberoi? (Who cares about the CST anyway? If TV doesn’t cover it, its not news!) Where were those angry young women and men, whom the Barkhas and the Goswamis believed would teach a lesson to the politicians? Considering that these chaps, and their rich parents of course, were the primary beneficiaries of the neo-liberal policies of the government, wouldn’t they spare a couple of minutes to select their representatives? But we don’t want their soft, fair skins getting a tan, do we? Well, the lesson that seemed obvious out of the entire exercise was the politicians need the votes of the poor to serve the rich. That is, the poor elect the representatives of the rich. Is it then, as Marx and Lenin spoke about the functioning of a capitalist democracy, that the oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class shall represent and repress them in parliament?
Of course, it would be naïve to suggest that all of the bourgeois kids would be indifferent to the electoral process. Quite a few would have cast their votes (for those who would serve their interests in the future). I, for one, am sure that quite some students from certain prestigious J-schools in the country would have voted. Well, they ought to. They are the future constituents of the fourth pillar, aren’t they? They would then boast about it on facebook/orkut and proudly display their index finger to their friends at Coffee Day, Barista or some expensive pub. That they will show their middle finger to the Aam Aadmi in the due course of their career is a different issue altogether.
For the poor, however, the polling booth is one place – in my opinion, the only place where democracy functions. This again, when you exclude cases of booth capturing or rigging. Democracy, otherwise, doesn’t exist for the underprivileged in India. The country’s healthcare sector is one of the most privatized ones in the world, even worse than that of the US’. A series of articles in the EPW dated Nov 22 2008, on the 30th anniversary of the Alma Ata revealed the glaring failures in India’s healthcare policy post 1991 reforms – things just went from bad to worse. And as a result, you have thousands of people dying of curable diseases for the sole reason that they can’t afford treatment. As far as education is concerned, apart from a few states that had a tradition of reform movements, India’s progress has been abysmal. Even primary schools don’t exist in 1000’s of villages across the country. Add to this feudal notions of caste superiority, pollution et al that prevail in society that have been minimally addressed by the state, in some cases, reinforced by it. So by the time a Dalit/Tribal student reaches collegiate education, she would have undergone thousand untold sufferings. But yeah, the chief argument put forth by the privileged classes against affirmative action is merit. A comparison with social progress achieved by ‘dictatorial’ Cuba should put the ‘world’s largest democracy’ to shame, if it has any.
So where is democracy in India? Are the benefits of democracy for the rich and the despotism of bureaucracy for the poor? Is the freedom guaranteed by Indian democracy then, as Lenin observed about capitalist societies, the same freedom guaranteed for slave owners in ancient Greek republics? If so, then what is to be done?
Well, I am not going to suggest anything that would be perceived as going against the sovereignty, integrity and whatever of India. I am a law abiding, UAPA-NSA fearing citizen, after all. Those who are working for Change with a capital C know best.