Wednesday, December 23, 2009

D for idiocracy

A bill to make voting compulsory? Modi has outdone himself in the quest of bringing draconian laws onto an unsuspecting and susceptible public. Along with the countless oppositions, there are also voices of support, a prominent one being Lalu Prasad Yadav, who introduced the 'efficient' cattle class concept in the Indian Railways with an additional side berth which he said would bring in additional revenue, even if the people could barely fit in to the berth! But can anything be compulsory in a democracy? Yes, safeguarding of the public, based on existing laws and the good will of the people can be termed as something which is compulsory in a democracy. But in a state like Gujarat ruled by an autocrat like its chief minister Narendra Modi, who literally got away with the murder of hundreds of people in his state, the wind is blowing in the wrong direction again.

So, what could be the reason behind such a law, if it were to be passed and accepted across the board? The reason given is that this could lead to the restoring of a dead electoral system in which voting has come down drastically over the last many years. Urban areas have out done rural areas in showing disinterest and lack of motivation to get out of their houses and cast their votes. There have been discussions earlier on what could be done to reverse the trend and how to make the voter come to the polling booth and cast her/his vote. But should this be the way of getting the voter interested in politics or should we explore other ways?

Being a priest I can’t help but thinking of how religions and churches especially take and use the reality of democracy in their own settings. Dictats are given out to church members that they will be punished if they err from the official line and that they have to follow the rules laid down by the various churches down to the last letter (It is another matter whether anyone actually follows anything when it comes to rules in the church??!!). This in churches which are supposed to be public platforms where people can come to and express their hurt and dissent!

Dissent and protest in society is not a sign that things are going to come to an end and therefore the leadership has to crack the whip to prevent things from going out of hand. Dissent and protest rather are the legitimate rights of people who are otherwise not given a chance to express themselves. Jesus by being born in a manger and not a palace becomes part of this dissent and protest and this act is supported by the shepherds and the wise men. By making church attendance compulsory we take away the legitimate right of people to say they disagree. By making voting compulsory we again take away the legitimate right of people to protest against the system of politics and against the candidates who set themselves up. Just as raising ones voice is protest, staying quiet and not doing something is also protest.

Modi is working against this right of the people. He is stifling protest and taking away what little remains for the religious minorities in Gujarat. If he or any other politician is interested in increasing public participation during elections, then there are other ways to do it, starting from conscientization of people to the freedom of people to enter and be part of the electoral process. A leader is one who has to read the sentiments of her/his people, not someone who imposes sentiments onto them. This bill, if ever to be taken seriously has to be discussed, debated and left to the people of this country to decide on. Modi represents only one such group of people and not the people of Gujarat and the people of India!

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