Why I flew 3000 kms only to vote 'None Of The Above'

Source :SIFY
Last Updated: Tue, Apr 12th, 2016, 16:40:08hrs
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Why I flew 3000 kms only to vote 'None Of The Above'
At 6:45 AM, 15 minutes before the polling booth opens, over 100 people stand in line before me. I stand an hour only to go back and come back in the afternoon to stand another hour before I could finally vote.

I flew 3000 kilometres from Mumbai to Guwahati, Assam to cast my vote in the assembly elections. But after waiting two hours in the sweltering heat, as I stood twenty seconds before the EVM I realised I couldn’t vote for anyone. I pressed the ‘candidate’ at the very bottom – NOTA - None Of The Above. Foolish, you think. Not at all. 

Why do we have elections in a democracy? So we can elect someone to govern us, right? Wrong. Elections are held to select the right person to serve us. A candidate who wants to ‘govern us’ stands with an air of superiority while the one who intends to ‘serve us’ has necessarily to be seeped in humility. 

I have been in Assam for a month and saw first-hand the work done by parties and their candidates. I found that almost every single one of them is fighting not for the desire to serve, but the profitable venture of governing. Their approach to canvassing was proof of that. 

When a film releases in Mumbai, depending upon the budget of the movie, ads appear in newspapers and TV. Big production houses run full page ads, well aware that they will make the money they spend. Indie films with no budget have tiny classified looking ads in inside pages. 

If you looked at newspapers in the two weeks before the elections, you’d have seen the front page of every newspaper almost every day, taken up by full page ads of a party. Its competing party took up pages inside. 

If you are a party with such deep pockets, you automatically become suspect in my eyes. There are no free lunches in life, definitely not in politics. Who is giving you so much money for such a humongous publicity campaign? What are they asking in return? How will they recover their investment on you? And why is it that you do not transparently declare your sources of revenue or even expenditure though from your ads, your helicopters, millions of flags, your lavish sets, er… podiums, we can guess where it goes. 

When producers advertise their film, you can choose to watch it or ignore it. You lose nothing from your pocket or your mind. When it comes to politics, whether you vote or not, if the wrong party comes to power, everyone suffers. 

During the release of a film, actors travel the country, speak at rallies and press conferences to get great media coverage. Often they get endorsements from other actors. This is exactly what is going on here. The amount of sycophancy, unabashed opportunism, nepotism going on in all the political parties is so much, I wonder if I am watching a perfectly scripted, dystopian, doomsday film.  

During a film’s release, spin doctors create stories about various things. Common ones being about how hard working, emotive a star was during shoots. The equivalent of this would be making a big press release if a PhD scholar managed to write his name correctly. 

A director once vehemently claimed that the film he had made was the best performance given by its star till date. When pointed out that it was the first film of the star, the director said one word, ‘exactly’. 

A film’s PR machinery thus goes into an overdrive to exaggerate, deceive, lie with one and one intention only, sell tickets. That is again what is happening during elections in Assam. One party is exaggerating that people of another religion are attacking their very essence and that it is time they banded together to save themselves, their religion, culture. Like in the brilliant documentary ‘Our Brand Is Crisis’ (and the film ‘Wag The Dog’) where a few PR executives create a non-existent crisis to push a losing candidate into presidency (save the Presidency in ‘Wag…’), they have created a crisis from what was a doubt in people’s mind. 

Wanting to propagate your culture, traditions because you think it is the best, is laudable. Being fearful of another’s because you think it will usurp yours, is a recipe for disaster. The Assamese society is being led on the path of disaster by people dividing the state in the name of religion, tribes, sects etc. 

It is harmless fun when a film’s PR machinery lies or exaggerates. But when a state’s media, owned by different parties, does it with all seriousness, they indulge in paranoia that is dangerous for the state, nation. Anyone doing this, will not get my vote and from what I have seen here, there isn’t one party in Assam not doing this. Thus, NOTA. 

Then there is the matter of over-confidence. Everyone is confident their party will win. There are half a dozen people who fancy their chances at the Assam CM’s chair. Of those, one has created over 100 selfie booths where people can go and take photos with the CM wannabe or with a national leader, use it to post and brag on Facebook. Another looking at the CM’s chair with a 15 year old satisfied hunger has got a mobile app made in his very name. Why not wear a 15 lakh suit with your name on it to match this megalomania sir? 

The use of technology is hailed by the press as if we are at the famed technology convention of Apple Computers, not assembly election. If tech use was a measure of how well one can do people’s work, we should unanimously ‘select’ ‘philanthropist’ Bill Gates to the CM’s chair.  

I remember a time in the last millennium, when going to an election rally meant hearing about probable solution to problems. Today it is like going to a fair. You go there not hoping, but demanding to be entertained. And leaders oblige with outrageous claims. Whether it is this national leader who says any kind of nonsense that comes to his mind including claiming that every single person in Assam is living Below Poverty Line, to another who has no other job but to make the brilliant claim that the opposition party is trying to overthrow him. Oh, you think so sir. Good morning eh. 

Who’d have been the right candidate, you ask. One who’d have gone on the streets, talked house to house with a notepad in hand. They used to do that once upon a time. A former CM even canvassed on cycles. Now, they just want to hobnob with the bigshots of national politics, fly helicopter class. 

You’d be right if you said that elections are not what they used to be. Today they are carnivals. It is an entertainment venture that will leave even Bollywood behind with its glitz and glamour, the way they pleasure people, tickle their fun centres. 

Elections today have become a noun, an adjective even, when once it was a verb. 

Some of you’d say, there’s no solution. That we are doomed to choose the best from the worst. Well, I agree and I did. The best candidate in my constituency was the one last in the list, Mrs. And Mr. NOTA.  

Incidentally, if popularised, NOTA can lead to some interesting, fun scenarios. 

Imagine a constituency where every single person votes NOTA. That is not going to happen. All right. Imagine a constituency with 20 candidates and 100,000 voters. Of these 99,900 voted NOTA. Of the 100 who voted for 19 candidates, the highest is one who got 11 votes. What then?

To begin with it will make headlines. The candidate with only 11 votes will still be declared winner but won’t that show the candidate to be socially ineligible to be elected and the entire election to be a farce? Won’t it send the parties into a major thought mode? 

That is the very idea at the heart of NOTA. It is powerless and toothless now but it has two advantages. It ensures that the token participation in democracy every five years is done without having to agree with any party or candidate, like I did. 

The second befit is a hope for the future, that it will be given not just a set of teeth, but fangs to bite bad candidates. In an ideal situation, the one who gets the most votes is elected. If NOTA got a majority, it means that you don’t want any of the above to be elected i.e. you reject every candidate. There would be re-election and rejected candidates won’t be allowed to stand at least till the next term and all parties fined for fielding bad candidates. 

This would force political parties to field good candidates. NOTA thus has the potential to become another empowering tool in the hands of citizens, like Right to Information – RTI, that has singlehandedly been responsible in cleaning up a lot of dirt in the Indian system.  

It is precisely for this reason that political parties are against full implementation of NOTA. All political parties thrive on corruption, kickbacks, black money etc. and tickets are mostly given to candidates who can best manage these. If they empowered NOTA, it’d be like getting rid of the very reason these people get into politics.

Was it worth all the money, time, effort and travel of 3000 Kms only to vote NOTA. I definitely believe so. For I truly believe that if democracy in India has to be saved, if the nation and its politics have to be made accountable, corruption free, if we are to get good people in political parties, what we need is the power to reject, the power of NOTA. 

3000 Kms to vote NOTA. Oh yes, I would do it again if the need arises. And I believe so should you. 

(Satyen K. Bordoloi is a writer based in Mumbai. His written words have appeared in many Indian and foreign publications.)

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