I Travelled 7,500 Kilometres to Cast My Vote. What’s Your Excuse?


I Travelled 7,500 Kilometres to Cast My Vote. What’s Your Excuse?

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

The second phase of the general election is over and the numbers are in — at 75 per cent, the highest voter turnout was recorded in West Bengal, while Jammu & Kashmir clocked in the lowest at 42 per cent. As I sit and type out these numbers, I realise that I’m part of the minority group that actually gets excited about voter turn-out. Growing up in a family where politics was routine dining table conversation, these figures were discussed with as much enthusiasm as our school results. “Kitna ho gaya?” was the most asked question in our house, whether it be exam season or the Lok Sabha elections.

I grew up thinking every household worked the same way. It was only in 2008 that I realised voting is not taken very seriously in our country, something the bombastic “Jaago Re” campaign that year attempted to tackle.

The lack of general enthusiasm for general elections stumped me, given how in my family, the greatest aspect of turning 18 wasn’t that you could finally drive, but how you could exercise your franchise and vote. Safe to say, we took voting very seriously in my household. So seriously, in fact, that my sister and I once travelled over 7,500 kilometres to cast our votes.

Last November, right before the polling for Madhya Pradesh’s assembly elections, my sister and I were holidaying in Scandinavia. True to our must-vote-come-what-may disposition, we were scheduled to return on the day our hometown Bhopal went to polls.  There was but a tiny glitch, the only flight available from Delhi to Bhopal was in the evening, after polling stations closed. So we decided to take the next-best option which was to fly to Jaipur from Delhi around noon, and then to Bhopal from Jaipur in the afternoon. With a two-hour break between flights, we were confident of getting to the polling booth in time and patted ourselves on the back for being responsible citizens. Problem solved? Not quite.

In accordance with Murphy’s Law, the Delhi-Jaipur flight was delayed. Our complaints to the authorities were first met with indifference, but once we told them our saga, of having flown in from Helsinki on that particular day just so we could vote, their patriotic spirits were triggered because then they pulled out all the stops, transporting us from our delayed aircraft to another on the tarmac, to make sure we got home in time to cast our vote. Our security check, too, took place within the aircraft! It was magical! Even better than your sweetheart jumping security barricades to confess their undying love!

The Election Commission has also come up with a bunch of initiatives to make the process smoother.

The airport’s ground staff, my sister, and I all understood the importance of making our vote count that day, which is why the ambivalence toward exercising your franchise from younger voters baffles me. It’s almost as if they are afraid of the kind of commitment it requires to go to a polling booth and choose a candidate or NOTA. It’s almost as though they do not want to be accountable for the vote they cast.

And so follow excuses, the most common one being, “Oh, I didn’t vote last election because I was away from my hometown where I am registered as a voter.” While I don’t think everyone is capable of making an intercontinental voyage like I did to vote, if we really took voting seriously, we would have Googled “How to re-register myself as a voter in a new city” and realised that it really isn’t rocket science. The Election Commission has also come up with a bunch of initiatives to make the process smoother.

Another excuse that I hear (and yes, full marks for having their intentions in the right place) is people not finding their names in the voters’ list on the day of polling. Again, if you really wanted to vote, you would’ve gone to www.nvsp.in (National Voters’ Service Portal) to check if your name reflected on that list. We are young, we are tech-savvy, we can surely use it to make a difference. The point I am trying to make is that where there is a will, there is a way.

What stops us from taking part in the very exercise that determines who gets to govern us for the next five years and to hold them accountable? An article in The Economist titled “Why Young People Don’t Vote” states, “Historically, youth turnout has never been particularly high anywhere, but over the past few decades things have got worse… Perhaps the most depressing explanation is simply that in many places, young people do not feel that there is anyone worth voting for. Young people — who tend to be more cosmopolitan, liberal, and hopeful than their elders — tend to be switched off by the negativity and cynicism of election campaigns targeting the unhappy old. Sadly, cynicism then breeds cynicism.”

And it is this cycle of cynicism that we need to break in India by showing our willingness for electoral engagement. Democracy needs active citizens to function. And we learn the art of being responsible citizens over the course of our lives. In my case, I learnt it by being a part of an election-obsessed family. Others learn through example, so I’m up for being spammed by those selfies with the inked finger and brands cashing in by giving discounts if you walk in after having voted. If you make voting a big deal, it becomes a big deal for people around you. India needs its youth to vote in these crucial elections.

Here’s looking at you, kid. Make it count.