Why This Election is Not The Time to Be a Fence-Sitter


Why This Election is Not The Time to Be a Fence-Sitter

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

Ademocracy is cynical by design.

It limits you and your vast imagination to a motley crew of “candidates”, all of whom run on different platforms and promises, often so absurdly far apart from the other that each choice seems like a choose-your-own-adventure game. The result is always us spiralling into the abyss of course – just that the abyss looks different in each scenario.

The abyss that we chose to go down in 2014 has taken us to an entirely new place in 2019. The Modi government rode to power on the promise of vikas; its tenure however, has been overshadowed by demonetisation, lynchings, and negligence in governance. Yes, we are all minutely aware that we are a country littered by a history of colossal misgovernance, regardless of who is at the helm. The BJP, back in 2014, literally won the election on the basis of this: We were ruled by a dynastic, corrupt Congress for over 60 years. It was time for something else.

Even that something else does not seem to be the answer.

We must keep in mind that democracy is not the natural state of existence for India. In a geographic region that has a history spanning more than 5,000 years, democracy as a concept has been hammered into us for only 72. We are the people who formalised the caste system, a unique brand of oppression so creative and vile in its structuring of subjugation that the effects of its violence continue to reverberate to this very day. We are the people of feudal landlords and zamindars, roles that haven’t changed for over hundreds of years. We are a people of monarchy and nepotism. We game the system in the hope that the rot flourishes even when laws are specifically made to accelerate its end.

Yet somehow, we’ve managed to hold on to our democratic and Constitutional value systems. We’ve approached a point of no-return on numerous occasions before, but we haul ourselves back, line up with school kid-like discipline and manage to cast our votes every five years. All of this despite going through consecutive five-year cycles of despair and disappointment.

Government after corrupt government has made tall promises and violated the public’s trust. Yet the current government is different because it’s selling you a different story of its time in power, and it’s selling it well. No other government has roped in the enormous amount of resources as this one has to convince the nation that we actually had a good five years. It’s a two-pronged approach. The government gloating about its success at their stay in parliament since 2014. The second and more successful gambit is actually a truth – that of a Hindu nationalism, conflating the idea of a nation with the identity of a religion to win the vote of the people. All of this is used to sway a nation, and we’re being blown into the wind as the largest election ever is underway.

Each election cycle brings in a government that chips away at whatever democratic ideals we have left. Yet, we vote every five years to instil and insist trust in the democratic procedure, on the rules and regulations that allow us, the common people, to have a say in the functioning of the country. But there are many among us who’ve lost faith in the system and refrain from voting.

I personally hold no grouse against anyone who chooses not to exercise his or her right to vote. The freedom to democratically express oneself goes beyond just voting for your preferred candidate, after all the politician that finds herself in the parliament is answerable to every single person in her constituency, not just those who chose to vote for her.

I haven’t voted before. My not having voted seemed to give some people the idea that I then had no right to “complain”.

I haven’t voted before. My not having voted seemed to give some people the idea that I then had no right to “complain”. It is only in the minds of such geniuses where a “democracy” is for the people who voted, of the people who voted, and by the people who voted. The rest of us are beings without thought and agency, floating by, unable to open our mouths about inane policy decisions that, to our wildest of surprises, directly affect us even though we did not vote. And even if this might be true I feel now is the time more than ever to go out there and cast the ballot.

As first-time voters today, especially those of us a little more cocooned and cushioned by our privilege, it’s important that we shrug off all garb of neutrality and hone our ideological and political motivations well enough to inform our eventual voting decisions. To sit on a fence is to be politically flexible to whatever it is that suits you best, regardless of how it affects others. To sit on a fence is to sit on the outside and observe, and your vote translates to how entertaining the watch becomes for you.

To choose to be “apolitical” is to tacitly be in support of the one in control, and it is easy to be that. When the policy doesn’t reveal itself directly in front of you, when its effects and/or ill-effects don’t have an immediate consequence on your existence, it becomes easy to tune out that part of your everyday life and amble along. Strangely enough, the Modi government’s decision to demonetise in 2017 may have been the first time numerous urban first-time voters had to confront the realities of a policy, especially an ill-conceived one.

The fence-sitter category is slowly losing relevance and has been reduced to a joke. The post-internet, algorithm-ridden 21st century we live in has ensured that every scroll of the mouse and every click of the button is politically charged. It has become easier to let the fence-sitter believe that the decision they arrived at was their own, and not a load of ones and zeroes digitally exploding across their synapses.

So let’s remember that fence-sitters are important for those in power. It’s easier to appeal to a mass that bends towards convenience. They are clouded by privilege and unaffected by the news, other than for entertainment value. To wait for a “sign” that’ll magically define for you your political leaning for the election is facetious, equivalent to getting sorted into a random house by a hat in Hogwarts.

Politics is violent, and the truth is that the violence is never directed upwards or at the fence-sitters. Yet, governance and society are geared toward pleasing those at the top, regardless of which side of the fence they eventually trip into. But there are those who literally live and die by the vote, and the least one needs to do in these elections is stand by them. And if fence-sitting is still something one wishes to indulge themselves with, then listen to those aggrieved rather than those in power.

Democracy can be tiring but it’s the only thing we have keeping us together. Those still thinking about their political choices, as well as overwhelmed first-time voters, should look hard into a mirror and introspect – what it is they stand for and what it is they believe in. Read more, think more, and allow that to inform your decision.