The other day I happened to pass through Meerut district in Uttar Pradesh on my way to Haridwar. Seeing some farmers harvesting wheat, I decided to break my journey and spend some time with them. They were obviously busy and didn't want to be disturbed, but when I introduced myself one of them walked upto me, touched my feet and said he had been reading me for ages.
Anyway, to cut the long story short I reasoned with them that perhaps the real cause behind their plight is that they have not exercised their democratic right of choosing the right candidate through the ballot. Why I asked them this question was because this is the impression you get from reading the newspapers nowadays. Pappu should come out and vote goes the Hindi song, and so does the political leaders and the media who are asking people to exercise their democratic right and elect the right candidate.
"First we voted for Kalyan Singh, and when he did not do anything for us we decided not to vote for him in the next elections. We then voted for Mulayam Singh, and then we voted for Mayavati," replied Kamla, the wife of a village elder. "What is the choice before us, we have to vote for one of them again, and this will not solve our problems."
How true. I wish at least the studio audience in the TV programmes realises this. Over the years, I find the studio audience too has begun to behave like the paid voters or the people you bring in to listen to leaders at times of political rallies. They know what is expected of them, and they deliver it faithfully. They are ferried to Congress rally, and they shout Congress Zindabad slogans. The next week they are at a BJP rally and they do not shy from shouting BJP Zindabad. Similarly, the studio audience also knows what is expected from them, and I must say they know what it means to be politically correct and get their five seconds of fame.
The fundamental question however still remains unanswered. How does 100 per cent voting for instance ensure that we will be able to pick up the best candidate, a deserving candidate, a candidate who is best among the lot, and is at least honest and sincere. Pardon my being sounding politically incorrect, but the fact remains that by asking people to come out and vote in big number we are actually sending a wrong message. We are trying to legitimise (or call it democratise) the election of wrong people for the right job. I mean there is no way your vote can make political parties ensure that they do not field criminals or corrupt candidates. You will continue to have the same set of people to choose from. Your vote will go on legitimising a faulty democratic system.
I strongly feel that voters must be given an option if they don't want to choose any of the listed candidates in the ballot. Only then we will be able to really purify the democratic systems on the lines we all want to cherish. What is wrong if the ballot paper also has a column which says "None of the above." And if the majority stands for "None of the above", than that constituency should have another round of voting. If that had happened, Kamla wouldn't have faced the dilemma that she is in now. And like her, millions would have sent the present crop of leaders packing, and that would be the real strength of a rich and vibrant democracy.
Why are we shying from doing so? I can understand why the politicians are reluctant to talk of None of the above option, but why should the media analysts be quiet?
And that brings me to another burning issue that many feel is turning out to be an 'unhealthy' and 'undemocratic' trend. I have seen the spate of editorials on Jarnail Singh's bold initiative of hurling his shoe at Mr P Chidambaram, the Home Minister. I am also aware that it will be politically incorrect to admire the trajectory the shoe takes. But notwithstanding what our political leaders (and for some strange reasons the so called enlightened media) believes, the fact remains that the nation is finding it a simple way to express their anger. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is the latest witness to a shoe missile, and earlier too it missed P Chidambaram, Navin Jindal and L K Advani.
Politicians across the spectrum say that shoe-throwing is undemocratic. I agree. And I have also seen the comments/opinion/views of various political parties and leaders in a news report in the Hindustan Times today (Politicos call for truce as shoe missiles rain, HT April 27, 2009). Click on this link to read the story: http://www.hindustantimes.com/Election09/storypage.aspx?ID=fce4d9b0-40d3-4b86-8602-3e01a1790d64&Category=Chunk-HT-UI-Elections-SectionPage-OnTheSpot&Headline=Politicos-call-for-truce-as-shoe-missiles-rain&gid=
If shoe hurling is undemocratic, is committing suicide democratic? In the 2004 general elections (correct me if I am wrong), the then chief minister of Andhra Pradesh Mr Chandrababu Naidu witnessed a piquant situation when a farmer stood up in a political rally being addressed by him and and drank pesticides. He died before he could reach the hospital. Imagine, if he had instead thrown his chappal at Mr Naidu. It would have caused commotion in the crowd, and more attention to the cause for which he eventually died. Not only in Andhra Pradesh, famers all over the country have tried to send a strong political signal by taking their own lives. When all democratic norms failed to draw attention, they took their own lives. And they failed here too. The world's largest democracy did not take notice.
Since 1997, the National Crime Records Bureau tells us that over 1.85 lakh farmers have committed suicide. Farmers have taken their lives in the prosperous northern state of Punjab, often referred to as India's granary. In the last 9 years, 2990 farmers have commited suicide is just two districts of Punjab -- in Bathinda and Sangrur. And don't forget, Punjab has 20 districts. In Uttar Pradesh, it has been sugarcane farmers; in Maharashtra cotton growers. Suicides have also been reported from Kerala, West Bangal, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh, Orissa, and Tamil Nadu.
I always thought that suicide was an undemocratic tool being used by the voiceless to make their voice heard. But what puzzled me was why is that none of the political parties are taking it up as if it was a question of life and death (which you will agree, it is). After all people are dying, using death as an expression of their anger. I always wondered why the enlightened media, which can depute some 450 journalists to cover the Lakme Fashion show, or send an army of reporters and cameramen to cover the IPL cricket in South Africa (as if it is a Mahabharata battle), are not even moved to take up the issue of farmers committing suicide.
Oh ! I forgot, covering cricket and fashion show only is an expression of freedom of press!!
Come to think of it. Wasn't it undemocratic on the part of the politicians as well as the media (which never tires of telling us that it is the Fouth Estate) to ignore human suffering in the crop fields? You have no regrets when the farmer took their own lives but you certainly would have been furious and "want these perpetrators to be booted out of society" if they had instead thrown shoes. Imagine if the 1.85 million had not died but instead flung their chappals/jutis, wouldn't it have been a more civilised form of angst?
Please do not get me wrong. I am not advocating throwing shoes to be a democratic form of dissent. But at the same time, I want you to think, and think deeply, as to why this democracy finds it nothing disturbing when farmers kill themselves just to draw the attention of powers that be to their plight.