India- a billion votes- are we trending right?

Recently a friend asked me , if he believed elections in India was representation of a true democracy. In the West, quite often than not, Indian election has been advertised as one of the largest democracy in action often marketed under the banner of a “billion votes”. A billion votes! Is that what we represent then? — a huge statistical data point representing the intent of an individual to exercise his fundamental right guaranteed by the constitution. Or is it the fact that a country as diverse as EU comes together to vote for a common leader to steer them in the next 5 years? Or is it because we have a very vocal campaign with everyone voicing (or rather shouting) their opinion over a million other voices , both praising their candidate and deriding others, all under the garb of freedom of speech- yet another basic right in the largest democracy.

I do not know what the true answer is but most people’s definition lies in a juxtaposition of the reasons as to why we come together to exercise the right. Democracy is often defined as “for” the people, “by” the people and “of” the people. We are a democracy because we “elect” our representatives and because we have an option to exercise this power at will and vote a government out if we feel they under performed. We are a democracy because we are not ruled for life by a single authoritarian ruler with a regulated media that squashes any unfavorable reporting against the government. We are a democracy because every five years we have our wanna be electoral representatives come to our doors like a salesmen of wares trying to woo and bribe us with presents and incentives and promises of a trip to Shangri La if voted to power. Essentially, we are a democracy because we have an “option” to choose and we get the government we deserve. However, I would like to analyze this “choice” further to see if this really made us democratic in the past.

I come from the Southernmost state in India, a region that kind of represents the Quebec to the Canadians or the Catalonia to the Spaniards. The state has its own language and associated linguistic pride -an identity that is separate from the national one. Therefore, in our regional elections , we still had to choose largely between two ideologically similar parties that had nothing different to offer except for the choice of the towering personalities who led it. In the last years even the towering personalities have passed away in time and today , there stands no difference virtually in the choice of the candidates. In the past, it has been a democratic choice between two personalities and an affiliation of which personality you preferred. But when cannot chose between the two , one just simply alternates power between the two every election. So what are we as an individual democratically voting for while exercising our right?

At the national level however , more relevant to the current elections, there are ideological difference in the parties that compete and the choice of a stronger personality has never been more apparent than this election season. And in the largest democracy, the process of casting votes has lasted a month with a focus on different phases and regions with the nature of the campaign adjusted to capture the imagination of the electoral population going to vote in that phase. You see references to history, mythology, past presidents, assassinations , tales of valor and deceit, all brought to life from notes long forgotten and given the spotlight so that WE “democratically” can make our decision, with all the facts in front of us- even if they are facts that pre-dates most of the population that will cast the ballot. All this is possible today , thanks to social media and the ability to conjure up these images and facts within a matter of minutes. And this to me I would say is a real reason that India is truly a democratic country today.

In the past, there was media, unbiased but controlled , unfettered but still filtered. We got information we were allowed to get, we were taught history that was approved and we only knew the personalities on whom light was allowed to be cast. There were many a faces that were then shunned into the darkness of the time , waiting for their “rightful” day in the sun. And until the light of social media was cast on these giant figures, many of us exercised our democratic right dutifully under these shadows, under a giant eclipse believing the exposed part to be the whole.

While the social media brings forth these forgotten giants , personalities and monuments, scandals and truth to the center stage, an average Indian, disseminates , dissects and debates it. He does it in his usual argumentative mode, with his neighbors, in the roadside tea stalls, in social gatherings and in the office spaces. And to an average Indian, there is only a black or white, a left or a right, a hero or a villain, a good or evil- as in the stories of the past passed on by generations to generations. What has helped fashion this election is precisely this- the ability to draw our heroes and villains based on facts that we can decipher from the information thrown to us — information we can seek more than information that was handed to us. And in this new age of social media, India’s right has finally a platform in order to share and be heard.

Yes- to me , we are NOW truly a democracy , because we have come a long way down the road to finally be decisive — decisive with a 20/20 vision- a vision that allows you to see both the right and left equally! And to the liberal west leaning advocates, it is difficult to judge a mood of the nation without taking into considerations the political and historical complexities of their journey. For what may be on the right side of the road for you may actually be the wrong side for us!

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Harini Gopalakrishnan

History buff, Coffee lover, Political aficionado, Wannabe writer but works for Life sciences! https://twitter.com/harinigkrishnan