During every election, a significant chunk of the population does not exercise its right to vote. During the last Assembly elections held in May 2001 in Tamil Nadu, over 40 per cent of the voters did not cast their ballots.
Of the over 4.7 crore voters in the state in 2001, only 59.07 per cent exercised this basic and essential right in a democracy. In the case of women, the polling percentage is even lower. Only 56.83 per cent women bothered to cast their ballots during the last Assembly polls.
Why don't people vote, especially in a state where politics is deeply etched in people's minds and popular film stars are either candidates themselves or are involved in the campaign? Mr. G.S.R. Krishnan, a Bangalore-based sociologist, explained the cynicism of the middle class towards the electoral process. "The Brahminical middle class - not necessarily Brahmins - harbours a contempt for the masses. They believe the democratic process to be quite futile and think that their opinions are of no consequence."
Ironically, it seems that the more educated a person is, the more he looks down upon the electoral process. "The higher you go up the education ladder, the more the people tend not to vote," says Mr. Krishnan.
For some like Mr. Prasanna, who is a project manager at CIOSA, a confederation of NGOs, the decision not to vote is consciously taken. Mr. Prasanna said that many background details about candidates were not easily available for voters, adding that he was not willing to "blindly support" a political party.
"Ideally, I would like to vote for a Gandhian, but am willing to vote for anybody who is honest and not corrupt. It doesn't matter whether they are from the Right of Left," he said.
Some just find the process of getting a voters' ID card just too difficult. This is particularly so in the case of bachelors and the floating population. Many, who live alone and are unable to provide a proof of residence document, are unable to get ID cards.
However, Mr. Krishnan said he would not blame the youngsters for not voting. "Politics operates essentially in two ways: in the realm of ideas and as an existential device providing solutions for day-to-day problems. The product of this age and milieu, like say, the call centre crowd, is self-centered and doesn't face any existential problem. Also there is no One Big Political idea today as there was Marxism a few decades ago. So youngsters are not attracted to politics," the professor of sociology added.
However, Mr. Krishnan cautioned against "theorising too much" and said that the people who don't vote were not following a plan. "There is no set pattern in the percentages. It's an accumulation of silly reasons and minor inconveniences. Perhaps the voting booth may be too far. Or the person might be feeling too lazy after lunch. All the people who don't vote do not sit together and decide not to vote."
Mr. Krishnan, however, hastened to add that the decline in the number of voters was not indicative of a decaying democracy. A case in point, he said, was the Emergency. "Only at a time of a great political upheaval like the Emergency does the middle class rudely feels the heat of street realities. When your family is hauled into a police station and questioned, when you are beaten up, you begin to question the political process. This was why middle class crowds thronged the Janata Party offices after the Emergency. This is why they offered their cars for party work," Mr. Krishnan said.
Tamil Nadu goes to polls on May 8 the results of which would be declared on May 11.
This is an article I wrote for Deccan Chronicle, where I work, and was re-written. Unfortunately, I lost that copy. I am just explaining why this blog is so dry.