Walk The Extra Mile - Choose to Vote!

Monday, April 13, 2009

"Where the mind is without fear and the head held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by Thee into ever-widening thought and action;
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake."

Such is the state of affairs today that Tagore’s lines sound too idealistic and fantastical to be true. As India gears up for the forthcoming general elections, divisive politics aimed at bolstering individual vote pockets based on caste and religion is the biggest demon that stares us hard in the face. It is time we choose our reaction – Denial or Combat!

The youth is in the focus today primarily because it comprises of the biggest chunk in the populace today thanks to the demographic dividend. Politicians are going all out to woo the youth. Therefore, it becomes imperative that the youth confronts them upfront for every issue that has been a part of our drawing room discussions so far.

It is true that the level to which the politicians have stooped down to in the present times is unprecedented. Use of unparliamentarily and many a times crass abusive language has become a norm. On the face of it, it might seem like choosing between the better of the two devils but that is a negative approach to adopt. We must understand that these corrupt people are intelligent enough to know that people who are educated can talk but they seldom come out to vote. So, they get away with calling names, playing religious cards and making promises that would take us a decade back in terms of development. Take for example a political party’s manifesto that promises to either reduce or stop completely the promotion of forward trading, share trading and mall culture besides curbing use of computers and English language. Is this a vision or a joke when in the times of a globalized world, you aim to introduce curbs to cut yourself from the rest of the world?

Diversity is the biggest asset that we claim to have as a nation. Sadly this diversity itself is used as a ploy to fragment us into groups. The issues being discussed in the run-up to these elections are flimsy to say the least. No one talks about upliftment of India as a nation. The parties adopt the policy of appeasing religious sects and caste groups. It is an easy thing to do because none of these parties seem to have a vision for India. But we can help them out by participating actively in the process and checking their monopolistic surge due to our lack of interest.

The voting percentage in the 2004 general elections was ~58% overall with the % of youth participating in the elections being 55% (a good 3 point less than the average). The urban youth participation % was still less with about 50% of them choosing to cast their ballot. (Source). There is still a sense of disempowerment and detachment from the state amongst a large section of middle class voter. Our patriotism and nationalistic feelings are confined to the three hours of watching a patriotic film or watching our cricket team win a match against our arch rivals. We don’t feel obligated beyond that to question ourselves at our apathy to contribute in a small way to the building of a nation (which is a continual process). Remember that your nationality is a part of your identity that people identify you with anywhere in the world. You are not an island unto yourself. If you don't respect it, people will not repect you.

Despite being taught that it is a good thing for society if people vote, even if it’s not particularly good for the individual, we treat it as a burden on ourselves. “These politicians are all corrupt” or “I have more important things to do” is our rhetoric. This can be corrected. Whether your vote would impact the direction of thought that these leaders adopt can only be a speculative thought. However, by the sheer power of numbers you can become a part of the potent force that is in all probability ‘pro-change’ - something that we desperately need today. True, the youth is impressionable but it is any day better than just being docile. Empowered by the power of information, I sincerely hope that we create the right impressions!

Not just in the voting %, the representation of youth in the Parliament is also a cause of concern. India’s first general elections saw 140 people below 40 years of age making it to the parliament. The number rose to an all time high of 164 in 1957. The 2004 elections saw just 61 making the cut. Is it because young people have resigned to the fate of a failed system and have begun moving to safer pastures that guarantee them seemingly better luxuries in life? (Source) The answer to this question is a disturbing 'yes' and this is what calls for you to choose your option. Either continue in the denial mode or combat? The choice is yours. Script a historical beginning or let the day go down as just another day of collective failing.


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