Current/news, Thinking Out Loud

Whom will you vote for?

Originally published: April 16, 2014

I won’t be making it to Pune to vote for the elections. We are at the cusp of such an important moment in India’s history, and I won’t be participating in it! Urging everyone to vote then, is as much a form of atonement for being an irresponsible citizen as it is a balm of sorts.

Is everyone facing the dilemma I am? The debates surrounding this election have been so polarising! You’re either pro-Modi or anti-Modi. Where’s the sane, rational middle ground for those with legitimate questions? I’m hoping he might be The Messiah (the irony of that metaphor! :P), but at the same time, it’s a bit frightening how drawn to his aura everyone seems. Halfway through the elections now, it seems the question to ask is not “if Modi?” but rather “how Modi?” Will it be a majority, a precariously stitched together coalition, or a combination of both? I think that’s precisely why it’s very important to stop getting overawed by his personality and aura and to question. I’m saying everything I’m about to say assuming that this person is going to be our PM. So, “why aren’t you criticizing the Congress or AAP” are not legitimate responses!

The answers to questions I wanted addressed, as a citizen, as a voter, seemed lost in the mudslinging that preceded the election. Why is it more important who Modi’s wife is?  Why did Modi choose to talk about cow slaughter and the meat processing industry when so many other issues demand greater attention? It was disappointing! The rhetoric of good governance, development and  growth can only take a party so far. So let’s begin there, with employment generation, infrastructure development and better growth. This I think would be the topmost, (possibly only) reason I would want a Modi government. The guy has a vision and he knows how to get there. The markets are already going crazy in anticipation that a ‘pro-business’ government is on the cards. This is important for me too. Last year, when we faced the twin deficit crisis, it did affect my family twice as hard, considering that my sister studies abroad (the rupee depreciation pretty much toppled the budget) and I stay away from home too! The only reason it’s under control now is due to some very creative accounting by Chidambaram and some band-aid fixes by the RBI (amongst some good measures). So we do need someone who’ll bring in far reaching, monumental, structural changes. Changes that can get the industries working at optimum capacity, generate jobs, get foreign investment, create better infrastructure and restart the economy. We do have a large, mostly hardworking population. What we need is someone to channelize those energies. It cannot be questioned that the inflation affects everyone! The beggars on FC road demand Rs. 10, not 2 anymore and a dosa that cost about Rs. 40 three years back, costs thrice as much now! So, yes, amongst the options that we have, Modi wins hands down.

But then, in order to fuel that growth engine, doesn’t the workforce have to be healthy and educated? Modi has been talking a lot about universities. But why didn’t he talk about better elementary education? About the fact that though apparently 96% of our kids go to school 5th standard kids can barely read 2nd standard texts? Why didn’t he mention better healthcare? I agree, the BJP manifesto does mention all these issues, rather, universalization of secondary education, special pedagogy for disabled children, revamping the UGC to improve higher education do seem like really good ideas. On health, the manifesto mentions universalization of healthcare and emphasizing Indian traditional medicine. But all this just reads like a quixotic list if he doesn’t go out there and reiterate his commitment to these extremely important issues. The fact that it seems laughable that I’m talking about something so basic, is testimony to the fact that we take these issues for granted, much to our own peril.

Also, what about the environment? Will the focus on the industries and factories exacerbate the environmental issues? Modi’s restoration of the Sabarmati in Gujarat gives me hope that our ‘national river’ will finally get someone who might address the issue of its pollution. The fact that it is a holy river, especially important for hindus, might egg him on more. (at the risk of sounding unnecessarily nerdy, the PM also heads the National Ganga River Basin Authority, so he has a well defined mandate too). Considering that he’s contesting from Varanasi, he could’ve mentioned it at least in the passing. Oor did he? I clearly missed it. But what I am talking about besides the rivers is the forests, the wildlife and the connected issues such as that of the tribals. And GM Crops! Only the CPI(M) talked about that one. I admit that it’s quite idealistic to expect him to address all the issues, but then we have Rahul Gandhi on the other hand going to the tribal belt bleating about the Forest Rights Act (that incidently, Manmohan Singh did his best to undermine before leaving office by signing off on some really shocking executive orders). The issue of Naxalism is so intricately linked to this. What do you expect people to do when they are being paid a few rupees per hundred tendu leaves, and then huge swanky industries come up on that very same land, their land, earning in millions! The sad thing is that if I do talk about something like this, I’ll be branded a “Leftist”. But that doesn’t matter!

One more issue that bothered me was why didn’t Modi defend people from the Northeast when there were all these racial attacks here in Delhi? I know the guy isn’t omnipotent, but if you want to gain political leverage anyway, I think that one would’ve been a huge sixer! It’s simply because he probably doesn’t care. They aren’t his traditional vote bank, so why bother. But I’m glad Modi has been rational enough to modify the Kashmir stand from the abrogation of Art.370 to a discussion on the abrogation. The fact that they have MJ Akbar to tackle the issue helps immensely.

And being a girl who lives in Delhi another prickly issue is his stand on women’s rights. I can’t fault him here about his speeches, or his manifesto. Both were very pro-women. But then what about the fact that the creep Amit Shah who got a woman stalked is his right hand man? He’s being called BJP’s Chanakya! =/ When Mulayam Singh Yadav made that distasteful comment on rapes, why didn’t Modi criticize him? I googled his reaction on it and 5 pages threw up a blank. One obscure website said that Modi reacted with ‘all women are like my daughters, Yadav  should be ashamed of himself’. The problem is that one, it is a very paternalistic reaction and two, why didn’t he go on record to vehemently oppose it. The reason simply is that he is pandering to his conservative voter base. Something which the BJP manifesto also reflects. It’s a very scary prospect that if BJP gets an absolute majority, we’ll have the Ram Senes and Bajrang Dals of this country being let loose!

What about sanitation? Another low priority area. But seriously, aren’t you sick of living in stinking cities with overflowing garbage bins, improper waste management facilities, burning of trash, lack of basic sanitary facilities like clean toilets, open drainages and sewers, open defecation (I still avert my eyes and don’t breathe when I drive over that old bridge connecting the PMC bus depot to Camp). The situation is much worse in the villages. A whole lot of kids under 5 die simply because they contract diseases that could’ve been easily averted but for a clean environment. Although Modi did talk about building toilets rather than temples, it is a statement I would still attribute to Jairam Ramesh, who originally said it. I do get the difference between what figures on a state list on what on the Union, but then again, a proactive committed government at the Center can make all the difference!

Then comes the Topic That Must Not Be Mentioned. The Godhra Riots. I can almost hear the Har Har Modi-ites groaning, and sharpening their knives with 1984 and Muzzafarnagar. Rather than countering allegations, with allegations, wouldn’t it have been better if Modi had just for once, addressed the issue head on? It is something I will never be entirely comfortable with. If 14% of the population of this country can’t enjoy the benefits of growth and development, are we as a society, as a country, ok with that? It will be naive to think that the benefits will just trickle down! Congress has made matters so much worse now that talking about the minority community invites the risk of being branded a “psedo” secularist. Come on! Can’t we just discuss issues anymore without being branded this or that for the opinions you hold?

What is of prime importance here? National Interest! Why do people just pounce on each other for saying something, or supporting someone they don’t like? Like I mentioned before, I think we are at a defining moment in history because we are going to take a decision with far reaching implications. One that goes beyond these immediate issues to define who we are as a nation and what we stand for. The big dilemma is whether there is such a thing as ‘the greater good’? Or all that exists is utilitarian, naturalistic ethics? Just ‘a greatest good of the greatest number’, with every one thinking about  the issues that bother them the most, and voting likewise, thinking to hell with justice, liberty, equality, fraternity. The constitution is too idealistic anyway. Unfortunately, I’m one of those crazy people who believes in those kind of things. The founding fathers had vision of the nation when they signed the Preamble that 26th of November, 1949, and maybe we’re redeeming our pledge bit by bit by our choices.

Simply put, we do need a Modi right now. Given a choice between bad, and worse, I’ll choose the bad. But it’s not because he’s the ideal candidate, but because there is no one else. What I do hope for, then, is a strong opposition as well. One that does not oppose just for the sake of opposing, but one that discusses and debates for a change. I hope Arvind Kejriwal doesn’t make it. He’s just Drama King. But I do hope Yogendra Yadav does. (since a friend brought it up, I’ll clarify. Though I’m not really a big fan of the AAP itself, especially after what they did in Delhi, I’m glad they exist. They have really succeeded in giving a platform to a number of people who otherwise would not have had the resources to contest elections. They have social workers, former bureaucrats, ex-armymen, bankers, educationists including even rural schoolteachers as their candidates. They also have a good number of women candidates. They have led to a broadening of the political spectrum and given a lot of people the hope that this is really a resilient, robust democracy where a socio-political movement can institutionalize effectively) Also, we do need sensible people in the Parliament. I hope we have a number of regional parties representing varied points of view. BJP also does have a number of brilliant, astute and rather prudent politicians who do address issues well when they decide to leave their political bickering aside. Most of the older Congressmen who I do respect will be in the Rajya Sabha and I find it insulting to even mention Rahul Gandhi.

So yes, do vote tomorrow! And if it was possible, I would’ve asked for you to vote a couple of times more for my sake, as well. What you could do instead was just maybe convince others to get off their lazy asses and go to the polling booths. Only 16th May will tell where we end up. 😀


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