Over the last few months, we have been told by numerous actors, sportspersons, politicians, historians and intellectuals why we should step out in the hot Indian sun and cast that all important vote. The corporate world, too, has not lost this opportunity to present itself as a socially conscious entity that has a life beyond profits, urging us to make a critical choice, not forgetting, at the same time, to display their company insignia.
Voting has become an act of patriotism, a step taken in national pride. Seeing my name and my picture on those sheafs of paper in an election official’s hands connects me, a citizen, instantly and almost magically, to the republic of India.
But that is not quite all, is it? I also vote for other, shall I say, more intimate reasons. I also vote so that I can improve my life, protect my beliefs, preserve my identity and – most importantly – so that I can battle ‘outsiders’ who are trying to change my way of life. Who those ‘outsiders’ and ‘the others’ are, depends on who I am but there they are – those ‘them’ people.
So, while voting is about being an Indian, it is also simultaneously about being part of, and within the specific religion, the caste or the linguistic community that I belong to. In this rather jingoistic socio-political environment, even the use of the plural ‘we’ is singular.
Let us, just for a while, keep aside the idea that our vote can drive out corruption or usher in development and look at the essential spirit behind voting, which lies at the heart of a democracy.
In its purest and most essential form – as a principle rather than as a process – democracy is a state given to us by life and not a political system. Democracy is the freedom to see, sense, feel, think, choose and act. These are gifts that man is privileged to have received from nature without as much as making a request for it.
As he struggled to create new political and civilisational structures, man came upon a new and fascinating object – power. Infatuated by it, he took that first gift of nature, free choice, away from himself and, as it were, hid it from his own kind. He chose to bestow that ‘will’ only on few and forced the majority to conform. In many societies, the individual will was snuffed out.
After years of struggle against man-made despotisms, humankind rediscovered the energy that a collectivity draws from individual will. Even if the independence of each individual brings about multitudes of thoughts and actions, which at times are conflicting, the resultant vibrancy sustains the present and allows for the transformation of dreams into reality. In realisation of this truth, mankind once again gave itself freedom and called it democracy. For all the imperfections that modern democracy has allowed for, it still comes closest to what nature has given us – which we have moulded into modern society as we know it.
The vote fires democracy – it is the philosopher’s stone. But what is the iron or lead that transforms into gold? Without getting entangled in the hierarchy unnecessarily placed on these metals, we need to discover that precious quality that a vote can hand us. The vote reminds everyone irrespective of our financial or social strength that, our will is our own, that in those few minutes when we make a choice, we can be and are free spirits.
To vote, therefore, is not about identifying oneself with a nation, a sect or a segment, but to be part of humanity. It is about being connected with all that exists beyond our own personal needs. Voting is about changing the lives of people we see and those we don’t. When you cast that vote you express your oneness through the choice that you make.
The people who flash by your window when you are on a highway, the man who takes your plate away when you finish dinner at a restaurant or the children in a remote village in Rajasthan who you know exist only from a map are all connected and the conduit is the vote. Voting is about being sensitive to the world around you, about empathy, strength and sharing.
If we have voted as we want to vote, and not as someone has obliged or forced us to, on emerging from the booth we feel cleansed, pure and a feeling of happiness fills our hearts. Why is that? It is because somewhere inside us we realise that in that little window of time, we have done something that is not about ourselves, that we have cared for someone or something. We have gone beyond the limitations that social identities have imposed on us.
People – we – come out of the polling booth with a smile. We think it is because we have just exercised the power to ‘change’ or ‘correct’ or ‘reprimand’ in that moment. In reality, it is not.
We feel complete after voting because we know we have, almost unknowingly, done something good for the human condition. We come in contact, at the time of voting, with a part of us that we rarely see. That little part that allows us to act for others for the betterment of the many without thinking for a moment “What will I get from this?” Here in lies the emotional core of democracy. The iron bars that prison us in our little controlled existence disappear to let us embrace humanity.
It doesn’t matter if you are from the margins of society or one among the elite, the feeling of oneness is the same. A cobbler living hand to mouth does want a better life for himself but when he enters the voting booth he forgets himself, all of a sudden he is one among everyone in the queue and in making a choice he will change lives, touch people, bring a smile on a face and the world may just become a better place. He may not articulate this, but he knows.
Voting is not about strengthening a nation; it is about strengthening people. Democracy empowers us to vote not for a limited national identity. The electoral system is about the nation, but the vote crosses political boundaries. It allows us to make a choice that touches every person, tree and animal that is sharing this world with us.
When we vote we influence every human being and we should remember this magical quality that those few seconds capture. That one vote of ours can stop wars and let people talk. It can make borders irrelevant and people relevant, it can let families who have never met for decades see each other. It can allow us to coexist and share the natural gifts of nature.
It doesn’t matter even if we never hear of these humane changes because when we vote, we imagine the ideal, not the plausible. When we hope for more democracies around the world, we are actually looking to share the world with more individuals who can change many more lives; we are not trying to create more boundaries, limitations and constraints.
Money, alcohol and religious and caste pressures are all realities of elections and every single one of us is influenced. Money isn’t just the money that a political party illegally distributes; it is also the prospective money that I hope I can make if a certain party comes to power.
Religious and caste institutions are the strongest undemocratic structures in society. They have swallowed individuals and societies within their mirage and by the time we realise that they are illusions, it is too late. These formations don’t allow us to look beyond limited circles and the more circles we create, the more bound we are.
We are not perfect beings and hence we will divide, rule, assault, hurt and control. But we are also wonderful people and if we vote truly, we can come in touch with that other side. Through democracy, the vote gives us that rare moment. The vote transcends all social, religious and political limitations.
It connects every human being with himself and all that exists around him. It is a rare creation of a man and man himself did not realise the power of his creation. But now that we understand the transformational nature of our right to vote, let us hold this priceless jewel with care and wear it with respect.
Voting is a selfless act.
T.M. Krishna is a classical musician and writer.