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The helpless voter

When India won her independence and held the first general election, political parties were allotted different colours for their ballot boxes! Yellow for the Congress, Red for the Communists, etc. This was to enable those who could not read to make their choice.

In the next four decades, the electoral scenario was always full of tension given the boisterous electioneering, booth capturing, violence and coercion of the poorer sections from exercising their votes.

The introduction of electronics voting machine has brought the benefits of technology to everyone – the natural and elegant push-button choice and the quick announcement of election results. In the 2000 US Presidential election, the results were delayed by almost a month, thanks to a glitch in counting the votes in Florida. The best part is that the US electorate and the candidates, accepted the verdicts, however controversial and wrong they were.

What a pleasant and proud contrast in India, where the results are announced the same day, with very few challenges. No tension for the police to collect and store the ballot boxes safely, till the counting starts. Electoral disputes have come down remarkably.

The full credit for the smooth conduct of elections should go to the Election Commission.  Thanks in particular to the pioneering T N Seshan who bearded the political lions in their dens.

But with all these, one thing remains constant: the poor voter remains confused, hopeless and helpless.

There is near unanimity, amongst all political parties and candidates over the value of liberal promises given to the electorate. There is unanimity in stressing the welfare of the masses, development of backward classes and areas, waiver of loans, free infrastructural support, lots of freebies and last, but not the least, corruption-free governance with the promise to book the guilty, however, high and mighty they may be!

A welcome feature is the increasing voter turn out. From a meager 40 – 50 per cent average, it has improved to 60-70 per cent and is now over 80 per cent! Is this an appropriate barometer for the success of electoral democracy?

If the first tragedy is the confusion and helplessness of the voter, at the time of making his choice and casting his vote, the next bigger tragedy is the formation of the government, especially if there is no single party with a majority or the margins are thin! This scenario opens the floodgates of permutations and combinations and inflates the price of the voters’ choice!

We are all familiar with the famous R K Laxman’s cartoon creation - The Common Man. Is the present day voter indifferent from the common man patented by R K Laxman?

The obvious references would be the incident that happened recently in Uttarakhand and earlier in Maharashtra when Sharad Pawar became CM for the first time.

The party which gets maximum seats, but not majority, will be dethroned by the next party with the support of the disparate groups. This is what Sharad Pawar did with a handful of seats and replaced Congress CM Vasantdada Patil, by partnering with Janata Dal in 1980. In Uttarakhand, BJP, which got more seats than Congress, has been dethroned with the support of BSP, with just three seats, extended to the Congress party.

In all these political dramas, the voter is helpless.

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