Mahesh Vijapurkar

Centenarian Shyam Saran Negi is rightfully a wonder, and not surprisingly, the Election Commission has made him the brand ambassador to enthuse the voters to do their duty. Negi, a Himachal Pradesh resident, was not only the first voter when the first general elections were held after Independence, but has consistently voted every time elections were held thereafter.

This time, he had a red-carpet rolled out for him at the Kalpa polling station for the Himachal elections. The poll officials also arranged a transport for him for he is aged and frail. Bringing a voter to the booth by another’s, that is a candidate’s or a party’s transport is banned because it influences voter behavior. But the EC’s gesture was to honor his faith in the worth of the vote.

In a country where the average polling turnout is hardly ever crosses 65 percent, Negi is a sterling example to emulate, especially to the urban middle classes and the genteel who are more the arm-chair critics than participants in a democratic exercise. The voter has to understand his one vote could be decisive in deciding the country’s destiny.

Apart from this commitment to his civic duty – he has not missed voting ever in any polls since then – what Negi said was that “now, politics has changed”. However, he did not elaborate on it – I read this in a Marathi newspaper – but I interpret it as a comment on the increasingly grabbing and grasping politics into which the country seems to have slid.

These trends, and the votes being sold by the poor who find that the Rs 500 – I am sure I am underestimating the scale of that – demonetisation or no, must be troubling the grand old voter from Himachal. But what can he do except cast his vote and hope that it overwhelmed distortions the politicians have introduced with the aid and endorsement of the voters.

I suppose he meant that even if the voter was steadfast in his commitment to consistently exercise his choices, the kind of people one has to choose from was not exactly an elegant list of options.

Perhaps the growing tendency to get the family first ahead of the country, so visible in the promotion of dynasts in constituencies may have irked the grand old man.

Corruption and promotion of dynastic hegemonies in the constituencies are a cascade from the model of dynastic control of political parties at the national and state levels – The Nehru-Gandhi family, the Mulayamsingh and Lalu Prasad Yadavs, the Pawars, et all.

If it could be at those levels, the smaller ones at the constituency level think that mimicking that was alright, and actually, personally useful.

So why does a voter vote? There can be a long list, as long as your arm. Some of them are: because the voter has personally benefited from a politician in getting his rightful work done, cutting through a maze of red tape and demand for grease; or even getting an illegal thing done for which gratitude has to be shown or find the politician’s wrath visiting the voter.

Or just to be in the good books of the powerful politician who has the ability to do more harm quietly than do the right thing by the rules, and who knows, what turn of fortune may force the voter to supplicate before the warlord in future. It pays to be in their good books. The larger perspective of an ideology deciding an option is hardly the reason on many, many occasions.

Ideology, however, is now a cover for opportunism. The manner in which people flee one and embrace another because of personal ambitions is visible where winning matters more than being true to the cause for which a party claims to be fighting the elections for.

Yesterday’s ideological enemy becomes the new follower of an exactly contradictory ideology.

These trends, and the votes being sold by the poor who find that the Rs 500 – I am sure I am underestimating the scale of that – demonetisation or no, must be troubling the grand old voter from Himachal. But what can he do except cast his vote and hope the it overwhelmed distortions the politicians have introduced with the aid and abetment of the voters.

If sincere, if purposeful, if honest, a vote is a manifestation of hope in a democracy. But the socio-political system has strengthened itself so that the hope could more often than not be misplaced. Not hoping makes us cynical. So there you are, but one salutes Shyam Saran Negi for being a good soldier of democracy.