By Dr. K. Javeed Nayeem, MD
The transient villager that I once was out of my own volition by choosing to practice for many years as a doctor attached to a very remotely located village hospital, I have seen a great deal of difference between the way villagers and townspeople view our elections. Today, our villagers are perhaps the only people in our vast country who realise the enormity of the power that they wield, thanks to their votes. That is why they are so sought after by all those who aspire to make a life out of active politics.
Our rural folk think and quite rightly too, that they have a great role in deciding who represents them in the government and so they proclaim proudly that they are the de facto ‘King-makers’. All the contestants too recognise the importance of the role of these humble village folk in deciding their fate at the polls and so they leave no stone unturned to see that even the remotest rural reaches of the country are reached either by themselves or at least by their most noted aides while canvassing. They also make a big hue and cry about how they do this.
Once in five years, the vote seekers pull up their pyjamas or lungis and take great pains to wade or waddle through all the potholes and all the muck and mire that plague our village roads, squarely blaming their sorry state on the previous regime that had promised to set them right and failed to do so. And upon reaching their target hamlets, they hug and kiss all the inhabitants as if they are their own long lost brethren, separated by just a tiny time warp!
That is why, in a noble tradition started by our ‘Manninamaga’ H.D. Kumaraswamy, we see our political big-wigs frequently resorting to the now rather common-place gimmick of staying overnight or eating at the homes of the most down-trodden towards whose sorry state or fate they had not cast even as much as a sideward glance thus far!
Although this seemingly great act of bringing together and equalising, albeit briefly, two lives thus far separated by their vastly differing lineage and social status, does nothing more than providing just one impoverished household a flushing toilet, it does provide a mention of it on the small screen the same night and a little space on the front pages of all the newspapers the next morning!
This no doubt seems to impress the masses but mind you, our villagers are not very easily fooled. They extract precise promises from these Khadi-clad visitors before promising them their support and also threaten them that they will extract their pound of flesh at the next election if their promised package of goodies is sidelined or forgotten. And, they do it too. That is why we have all seen more than once, many seemingly unshakeable heavy-weights slip and fall at the very same places from where they had once risen to the skies.
Now, when we look towards our city folk to see what our elections mean to them, the most outstanding and palpable emotion is one of helplessness if not outright dejection. It is only the few who dwell on the fringes of what can be called ‘city-life’ thanks to their very poor social economic or educational status who feel that their votes wield some power. The rest of the so-called elite to whose fold I also claim to belong, are among the ones who think that our votes make no difference to our fates.
That is why we are never approached by any of the contestants who rightly believe that they should not waste their time and energy on a non-voting electorate. We are the ones who sit for long hours late into the night and bemoan the sad state of affairs of our nation all because of the thoughtless voting by our sheep-like villagers who are led stray by considerations of caste, creed and community or by just the lure of money and cheap liquor.
We never for a moment realise that we too are in possession of the same voting powers which we can put to good use if we decide to. We never for a moment realise that not voting at all is as heinous a crime as voting for the wrong kind of people propelled by all the wrong considerations, an act for which we hold our village folk guilty. We never for a moment wonder why the voting percentage in our cities is so dismally low when we call ourselves educated, well- informed and well-intentioned too. We never for a moment ponder over what an amount of difference we can make to our elections if we can take up the voting percentage in all our cities from the measly fifty-five percent where it now stands to about ninety-five percent which should not be too difficult if we decide to do it.
All that we need to achieve this is to understand like the villagers that our votes too can make a difference to our future if we cast them instead of casting them away as we are now doing. It is not our illiterate and gullible villagers alone but we the educated and the enlightened too, who have been doing a disservice to our nationhood ever since our independence due to our large scale non-participation in our elections. Just because we are well-to-do most of us think that we do not need elections to better our lives and we can buy all the material comforts that we need.
We cannot be guilty of a greater act of disregard to the future of our nation than this disrespect to our Constitution and democracy which we proclaim as the greatest in the world. Shall we us ask ourselves why we are so overcome by this apathy and inertia that prevents us from getting up from armchairs and walking or driving to our voting booths in an exercise that takes just five minutes, just once in five long years to give ourselves a better life of our own design and choice? And, shall we do it now…well before our next voting day?