Elections 2021 and the Challenge Before Voters
The Right to Franchise is a fundamental right guaranteed to every India citizen who has completed the age of 18. A democracy becomes effective and addresses the problems of society only when free and fair elections are held. More importantly, it is not the polling percentage alone that matters, but how informed are the voters and whether they exercise their right based on informed choice. And subsequently the elected representatives use their opportunity judiciously to pass important legislations and the executive follow the tenets of good governance.
Four states, namely, West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Union of Puducherry is going to polls to elect its representatives to legislative assemblies. Campaigning is in full swing. And in most places there is a festive atmosphere as road shows and meetings, door-to-door campaigns by candidates and leaders are underway.
For political parties winning the election is a game which each one strategises to get the best results so that they can return to power. It is often said that voters have a powerful right to bring down non-performing governments by using their right to franchise.
The voter's right also comes with responsibilities. They can be easily influenced or swayed by emotions and rhetoric. Political parties may effectively use the print, audio and visual media to swing votes in their favour. Most often it can be seen that even media chooses to portray the drama of campaigning rather than discussing real developmental issues in a constituency. Now the political parties have a more powerful ammunition in their hands-social media to influence voters. In Bengal, political parties have spent Rs 2.2 cr for Facebook campaigns while in Tamilnadu it was Rs 1.8 cr and in Assam 61 lakh while in Kerala it was Rs 30 lakh. And campaigns are now called 'Road Shows', a term that was generally reserved for companies which wanted to raise money through initial public offerings from investors.
It has become very important for voters to swift the hard data from emotional appeals, misinformation and disinformation campaigns and rhetoric. As Edward De Bono notes in his book, I am Right -You are Wrong: In theory society has very little protection against a politician who does not want to be re-elected. In practice there are politician's vanity and party pressure which serve as a protection against that politician doing too much long-term thinking. The politician wants to go out in a blaze of glory. The party wants to wins the seas next time around.
In India politicians use every trick to woo voters- one leader in Tamilnadu started the culture of giving sarees, televisions and computers free. According to a report in Malayala Manorama, the net worth of O Paneer Selvam, Tamilnadu Chief Minister is believed to be Rs 1000 cr. His party liberally distributes cash to people attending rallies and just ahead of poll date. Billionaire industrialist Kochouseph Chittilapilly who recently joined a political party, Twenty20 alleged that parties and leaders in Left and United Democratic fronts in Kerala had assets much higher than even of NRI industrialist and billionaire Yusuf Ali.
What the Voter Should do
It is very important for the voters not to be swayed by emotional appeal and empty promises made during election time. The media doesn't give a wholesome picture of the development issues facing a constituency or state. In a democracy, there are checks and balances. These are exercised by regulatory bodies or investigative agencies such as Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), Reserve Bank of India, Vigilance, Local Fund Audits and so on. However, such organisations are more bothered about the technicalities in the functioning of a department or administration rather than a holistic look at development. Hence, the conscientious voter needs to pore through reliable government documents such as Economic Review, budget documents, manifestoes of political parties currently released as well as the previous ones to get an idea of the real progress in the state, nation or within their constituency. The Right to Information (RTI) is a powerful mechanism in the hands of common man but many 'classified' documents are beyond their reach.
Most often political parties raise national level issues or international issues in their election campaigns which may not be much intelligible to common man. As industrialist Kochouseph Chittilapilly jokingly said in an interview: I was asked about Twenty 20's stand on Citizenship Amendment Bill, Farm Bill, Sabarimala issue etc. I told them I havent' come to grips with the issues facing my own district. Let me complete that first and talk about global issues!
Hence, children should be sensitised about the problems facing their immediate surroundings. They can be taken to for trips within an assembly constituency to understand local problems and invite the elected representatives to address their queries and solutions. As has been proved many times over, children don't have inhibitions and bold to ask questions given an opportunity. Dr APJ Abdul Kalam on a visit to interior Bhopal in 2010 met students of a government school who used to regularly bring out a newspaper titled 'Bachchon Ki Pahal' with 250 child reporters. One child reporter Gopal asked him, ''Dr Kalam you told us about the right to free and compulsory education and how it would bring access to education to all children. But I want to ask you, how can a child from a nomadic community, that constantly keeps moving from one place to another, pursue education in mainstream schools?" Kalam notes in his book My India: Ideas for the Future that it was a brilliant question and he felt that mobile schools that teach in a local language is the need of the hour.
Let the elections 2021 be an opportunity for school teachers and students to study and analyse the problems in their community. Let them involve in data collection, surveys and brain storming and invite elected representatives for a dialogue. When children are sensitised and ask questions they are on the road to becoming the well-informed citizens of tomorrow. Schools who are involved in such activities may share such experiences and insights to Pallikkutam. Emailfirstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: Pallikkutam iSchool has implemented SELFIE (Smart and Sustainable Entrepreneurial Learning for Families in India and Elsewhere) to promote a spirit of innovation, entrepreneurial spirit and initiative in students and parents through home based activities that supplement school curriculum. For details mailto: email@example.com or YouTube Pallikkutam