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Photo: PTI
Photo: PTI

Opinion | The prickly question of whether voting is a moral act

The general public have always in private elected some of the worst people that ever lived

Afew days ago, a radio jockey pranked a man in Mumbai. He posed as a representative of a travel company and offered a deal on a vacation in the last week of April. When the man took the bait, the jockey asked him if he was certain that he wished to go on a vacation on 29 April, which he soon revealed as the voting day in Mumbai. The jockey then revealed his true identity and rebuked the man in front of all of Mumbai for his disregard for the sacred day.

The sanctimonious jockey is part of a large mass of people who venerate voting. On voting day, there will be thousands of Instagram pictures of Indians showing their forefingers with the stated or unspoken claim that they have done something noble. Also, there will certainly be one viral photograph of a very old bent woman who had travelled a great distance to vote.

Voting is consecrated in our age, but is voting a moral act?

When people say in public why they vote, they make it seem as though they vote for virtuous things. But what exactly do they do in the privacy of the booth? If we look at the history of Indian elections, we see that the reasons why most Indians voted are these: They had accepted bribes in the form of money and liquor to vote for dangerous men; they voted for corrupt men because such characters seemed capable and street smart; they also voted for the supremacy of their caste and they voted to harm or restrain other communities and religions. They voted to defeat suave people though the suave people seemed nice and meant well. Generally, Indians voted for murderers, rapists and thieves, for the type of men who have to be herded in buses and hidden in resorts by their handlers to keep them from been bought like horses by rival political parties.

The general public, the people who speak of the great virtuous forces that impel them to vote, have always in private elected some of the worst human beings that ever lived. On the other hand, by mass majoritarian will, a man like B.R. Ambedkar, one of the creators of the Indian Constitution and among the most intelligent and earnest men of his time, lost elections twice.

Voting is also a response of the people to expensively transmitted lies and malice. Any speech today by any politician is filled with misinformation and venom because the strategy works. It is foolish to blame politicians. You cannot first invent and venerate electoral democracy and then accuse politicians of being political. Activists and journalists, too, are political workers who contribute to the lies and venom. In the end, everybody agrees, most voters will vote under the influence of diabolic storytelling. How moral then can voting be?

The elite, by their very nature, are few in number but exert a disproportionate influence on voters by controlling activism and influencing journalism through which they then transmit gloom and fear. Their greatest political success is in creating the notion that we are going through times that are dark, angry and insane, which are intrinsic qualities of social activists but not the nature of our age or the world at all. The world is mostly banal and hopeful, until it switches on the media.

In India, as in most parts of the world, the elite and the masses have never wished for the same things. For instance, the Nehruvian elite are afflicted with paranoia over privacy and detest Aadhaar. However, the vast poor see in Aadhaar, despite its glitches, a transformational force. The People’s Archive Of Rural India, a journal that is devoted to rural India founded by journalist and activist P. Sainath, recently lamented how people with leprosy can be a part of Aadhaar. Actually, there are provisions in the Aadhaar system for those who do not have fingers, but that is beside the point. Activists who ask how biometrics will help such people are just searching for a lament. By their own logic, these activists must question all of electoral democracy because someone with leprosy will find it very hard to use a voting machine.

The attack on Aadhaar by India’s paranoid socialistic elite almost succeeded in sabotaging the project. Meanwhile, the new anti-Nehruvian corporate elite has been pushing the idea that when they get even richer, some sweet crumbs will fall on the poor, so let’s build sexy highways instead of giving away loan waivers.

In effect, when an upper-class Indian goes to vote, or when you go to vote, to be precise, you are probably walking to defeat the will of a poor person. Take for instance the hypermoral activist, Arundhati Roy, who stated recently that she prefers “the chaos" of the Mahagathbandhan, an arrangement of corrupt and inefficient parties, over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s stability. What if the fact is that the Bharatiya Janata Party’s stability is more beneficial to the urban poor than “the chaos" that Roy truly prefers? She may not require the government, or political stability, to continue to thrive, but the poor do. Imagine the moment when Roy or Sainath cast their vote. They will likely be performing, however futile, an act that is intended to defeat the will of those who are poorer than them. What can be more amoral than the upper class going to vote?

There is one great virtue in voting. Consciously or subconsciously, people take responsibility for the miseries of their nation. After all, they had elected inefficient and corrupt people. Hence the probability of violent revolutions in an electoral democracy is small. However, that is not why people vote. They do not vote to own up their mistakes. They vote because their foes have a vote.

Manu Joseph is a journalist, and a novelist,most recently of ‘Miss Laila, Armed And Dangerous’.

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