Views & Reviews
Election: The Baptisation of Politics
“Democracy, discipline and enlightened is the finest thing in the world. A democracy prejudiced, ignorant, superstitious, will land itself in chaos and maybe self-destroyed.”
As Nagaland gears up for the assembly election to be polled on 27th of February 2023, there is now aggressive posturing of and even by the intending pristine new brooms.
Whether the election will be a battle of the major contenders- the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Naga People’s Front (NPF), the Congress – or whether the presence of smaller parties like the Rising People’s Party (RPP), the Janata Dal (United), National People’s Party (NPP) and Independent Candidates will have a bearing on the outcome, is the big question.
The festival and the ritualElection, for all good reasons, is corresponded as the ‘festival of democracy’. The Constitution of India, since it came into effect in 1950, has guaranteed the right to vote to every citizen above the age of 18 irrespective of (in our context)- tribes, gender, status, religion and place. This stands as the cornerstone of our democracy allowing citizens to decide who governs and how. The right to vote has been a hard-won right for many citizens around the world, closely knitted to the broader struggle for political and social equality. It is a festival, in as Christian term, as it is ‘an opportunity to a new birth and a promise of hope that reaches even beyond death’. But only if we are democratic, disciplined and enlightened. An election (or a vote, for the matter) is no small thing, not a light decision. If one is so casual about it, sh/e must spend a good chunk of time and try to figure out what an election is, who sh/e is, what it means to political parties, whythey are spending a lot of money on it and why it all matters. It is the deepest part of our political identity and if exercised well, will ultimately propel our performances in most indices.
While there can be no objection to treating an election as a festival, the many processes that go into the conduct of election have begun to be undermined, in the process weakening the functioning of democracy itself. The allegations of corruption and mal-practices, the sedentary office culture on one hand, and on the other, the efforts to curb and improve like the clean election campaign, anti-bribery resolutions adopted by village councils prove so. Independent analysts are rather skeptical about Nagaland topping the voters turnout list, simply refuting that “many more votes are cast than individuals queuing up before polling booths”. If only we treat elections merely as fun festivals- the frenzy mounts, the porks in the candidate’s kitchen, the rum bottle, if celebrated with pomp and show and empty hyperbole- this may have serious implications for our democracy.
We are inevitably remitted to representative democracy, and election is the occasion on which we choose our representatives. It is through election that we are governed by representatives, giving them the legitimacy, freely chosen by us all so that we are governed by ourselves- self-government. Given an honest and committed candidate tochoose, it is a ritual of purification, an initiation into peace and security and harmony and well-being (in political terms- development, governance, justice, rule of law…) especially for the poorest among us. A cast so profound, yet often taken for granted, by almost all.
Another facet of the prevailing conditions that deserves attention is the allegiance of elected representatives. A feature of a democratic society, that is commonly understood, is that the elected representatives actually represent their electors. In other words, the elected representatives are expected to owe allegiance to those who elect them, vote for them. However, common experience is that while candidates do seek out voters before and during the election, once elected, the tables turn. Electors who have to seek out their elected representatives, who tend to become inaccessible. A voter who has cast a vote for a candidate who ends up being elected often thinks that sh/e has a right to approach the elected representative, but the latter seems to think sh/e does not owe anything to the voter. What rather prevails is that elected representatives seem to be working for their interests (the crorepatis) and political parties rather than for their electors.
‘Those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know religion’
As a young boy, I remember playing a skit on John 13 (Jesus washing His disciple’s feet). How satisfying and comforting it is now to read about the ecclesiastical ceremony and to have a better grasp (at the risk of sounding like a Pastor): Peter, as prominent as he always has been, yet again made the scene. He did his best to decline Jesus’ effort to wash his feet to which Jesus answered, “If I do not wash you, you have no part in me’’. He is there saying ‘unless you let me serve you, you do not know my love’. Jesus ‘’girded himself’’ accepting His duty to take care of them all. He showed what it means to love, and to all humans. (May Heavenly Father bless our leaders with all humbleness).
Youth and the hope
Traditions and political cultures of course are more in flux than static or bounded entities, and the politics of yesterday and today may not be the same tomorrow. But there is a general point: The idea of a democracy and democratic elections is a vague and insubstantial notion, a kind of fog of possibility. Recent observations show that the youths (particularly those in the age bracket of 18 to 19 years) show the lowest electoral participation, which otherwise would have been the stronghold for a just, clean and fair election. Information gap among this segment along with the lack of motivation is a major factor leading to electoral participation being least of their concerns. This hiatus must be brought into focus by a myriad of concrete, specific choices and institutions. The youths must be provided with opportunities to engage with the reality and interrogate with the injustices to create a just present. There is a clarion call for those in position (District Election Officers) to reinvigorate the young minds in the electoral education and revamp the platforms and programmes rolled out specifically for them. Educational institutions which provide platforms like Electoral Literacy Clubs (ELCs),
Children Parliament, encouraging Campus Ambassadors, to engage students and youths through interesting activities and hands-on experience to sensitise them on their electoral rights, familiarising them with the electoral process and voting and also channeling students to play crucial roles in community intervention programmes (success story of ELCs school students in Attappadi, Kerala) will go a long way as participatory education suffused with learning of the realities will equip them as better architects of the state. Given the opportunity with the passkey in our hands, the pursuit of a more democratic ethos is the need of the times, individual choices or the lack thereof can indeed make a difference.
(The writer, Rampisinang Pipi Newme, is currently studying Public Administration, based in New Delhi. He is to be a 2nd-time voter on 27th Feb, 2023 and he can be reached at email@example.com)