By Manik Sharma May. 22, 2019
Democracy’s true essence isn’t the elections, but the days that follow after it ends, when we shed our voting hats and return to the routine of being citizens. Everyday life does not depend on political beliefs. So despite what we may feel about our differences, we work and live alongside people without bothering to identify someone as “sickular”, “bhakt”, or “commies”.
The Lok Sabha elections might be considered the crystallisation of democracy, but this year it turned into a parody too absurd and vague to be taken seriously. Nothing better embodies the capricious nature of electoral promises than the changing stance of political parties. An example of this is the BJP’s take on the capital’s pitch for statehood. In 2014, the party was firmly in favour, whereas in 2019 it did a complete U-turn. The Congress, which is traditionally known to reach out to minorities, has almost shed its “Muslim tag”. In fact, the word did not find a mention even once in its 2019 manifesto. Maywati’s BSP and Akhilesh Yadav’s SP which were arch enemies and fought against each other until the last state election in Uttar Pradesh are allies today.
These contrarian positions taken by political parties every five years apart are a fine example of the academic choices our leaders make to beat certain narratives. There is as much substance to them as a good character arc in a novel you’ll forget in a year’s time. The chaiwalla of 2014, has become the chowkidar of 2019. And do we really care about vikas anymore?
All political parties do is posture, so the voter believes they are just as divided and as fickle about their priorities. Which is why democracy’s true essence isn’t the elections, but the days that follow after it ends, when we shed our voting hats and return to the routine of being citizens.
This year’s Lok Sabha elections have probably been the most divisive in history. They might have also set a new benchmark in lowering standards. Delhi’s AAP candidate Atishi went public about a defaming pamphlet. Her party alleged that it was distributed by her opponent, Gautam Gambhir; the cricketer claimed to quit politics if the charges against him were proven true.
The chaiwalla of 2014, has become the chowkidar of 2019. And do we really care about vikas anymore?
In Bhopal, the BJP candidate and Malegaon blast accused Sadhvi Pragya Thakur claimed Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse was a national hero. BJP’s Sakshi Maharaj and Maneka Gandhi threatened the voters of their own constituencies, while Congress’s Sam Pitroda and Navjot Singh Sidhu made more dents in their own ship than in their opponents’. Bengal, perhaps, witnessed the worst as supporters were jailed, statues of historic figures dismantled as violence, by the end of it all, became the norm rather than the exception.
You can’t, as the average voter, help but sweat at the prospect of these people enabling India’s constitution. Moreover, you can’t help but be divided over it. Families that stayed together, voted together. But that is not always the case. The four votes cast by my family, across three generations, were split between parties. We don’t see eye to eye over a range of issues.
The army has for years been apolitical, but the last few years have changed that. The politicisation of the Pulwama attack by both the Congress and the BJP has left the forces divided. Hell, even the Election Commission has seen dissent from within and now the latest point of contention are the EVMs. There is blame to go around for everything. At least on social media, you can no longer ask a question or offer an opinion without being labeled either a bhakt or a librandu. There is no midway and no room for moderates.
But even though the web seemingly feeds our reality, it is nowhere close to it. Outside the confines of our screens, life is dictated by the inevitability of day-to-day tasks, tasks that demand completion and not political validation. Our day-to-day life is in fact, dictated by randomness, not politically divisive strategies, algorithms, and campaigns. Our survival, our livelihoods depend on social transactions more than they depend on political beliefs. So despite what we may feel about our differences, for each day that there isn’t an election in this country, we work and live alongside people with differing worldviews, without bothering to identify someone as “sickular”, castigate another as “bhakt”, or abusing some as “commies” or “anti-nationals”. In my days in the IT sector, before the election of 2014, we furiously debated politics during the lunch, and coffee breaks before returning to our desks as co-dependent colleagues looking forward to the same thing – increments and weekends. The same goes for my circle of friends, who despite their differences in political opinion stick together.
Our day-to-day life is in fact, dictated by randomness, not politically divisive strategies, algorithms, and campaigns.
Chances are good that once you caste your vote, like me you went back to work alongside someone who disagreed with your political opinion and voted for the exact opposite. Chances are good the two of you will continue to work alongside each other, often for each other, because that is the functional truth of life, the heterogeneous existence of different ideas, opinions, and choices. And though we outrage about how we have become an intolerant nation, we are a lot more tolerant within our personal space.
In the real world, a doctor’s prescription, a ticket collector’s discretion, a teacher’s lessons, a colleague’s commitment, or a neighbour’s cooperation aren’t necessarily political choices. They aren’t even bonds that get affected by political differences; instead they’re sustained despite it. Because these are simply things we do to get by. Collectivism and oneness is encoded into the fabric of this country and it can’t be wished away with a few slogans or divisive agendas. Even crude, opportunistic politicians cannot wrench India’s socially instinctive intimacy apart by preying on its diversity. We may think and vote differently on issues, on political leaders, but we are destined to demand the best in each other, be it people we need favours from or people we count on for making important decisions for us.
That is not to say that we shouldn’t worry about the fault lines, the deepening of many of our dissimilarities. Although it is the foot-soldiers – the paid goons of political parties – who criminalise streets, the average voter does more or less feel like a stakeholder of the eventual fallout. It is “our” street, after all. Though the disparity in opinions and ideas might take politicians to the throne, on the streets, our social etiquette is ultimately informed by our dependence on one another, and therefore acceptance of who we are in terms of caste, creed and religion.
The Lok Sabha elections have wrapped up and nobody can say they have been able to keep their heads calm or their opinions moderate. You could be forgiven for feeling these divisions were irreconcilable, that we are now permanently fractured, a country of pieces. But by nature and design, India’s democracy appears after the elections, not in victory or loss, but the continuation of our daily struggles on the streets, where more than depend on ideologies we depend on each other.