Should more people vote? Then, let’s revive the festival of democracy

By M V Rajeev Gowda

Try this simple quiz. Can you name three candidates contesting from your assembly constituency representing the BJP, Congress andJanata Dal (Secular)? OK, can you name at least one?
Chances are that the one name you can recall easily is that of the sitting MLA, whose face has been visible in posters and banners and cutouts over the past five years. If you know the names of the other contenders, it means you are a diligent citizen who reads the newspaper or engages in political discussions with neighbours . If only there were more like you.

Why are new candidates so invisible? What impact does their invisibility have on democracy? The answers are straightforward . The Election Commission has clamped down on open-campaign expenditure . So the wall posters, banners, cutouts of yesteryear are nowhere to be found. This means that first-time candidates are handicapped in terms of sharing their names, party affiliations, agendas and track records with their voters. The Election Commission’s actions will, thus, favour the better-known incumbent, and ensure that the playing field is not level.

If you look around, the largest number of hoardings and wall posters are from the Election Commission itself, urging people to vote. Clearly, the commission knows the importance of such communication platforms. It’s time to file an RTI query to find out how much the Election Commission has spent on these advertisements . Through this, we will come to know how expensive it actually is to reach out to voters. Why is it OK for the Election Commission to spend so much money, but not for candidates to connect to voters?

It’s also time to launch a campaign to junk the totally unrealistic election expenditure limits of Rs 16 lakhs per assembly constituency. This laughingly low limit should be either revised realistically or simply thrown out. Let campaign spending come out into the sunlight instead of moving underground. Instead of tackling that corrupt act, the Election Commission is spending huge amounts monitoring candidates.

Historically, election campaigns used to be melas, carnivals, jathres. They were vibrant, colourful and energetic, like so many Indian festivals. They were occasions for people of different backgrounds to rub shoulders while supporting a common cause. If the Election Commission really wants people to vote, it should revive the festival of democracy. Let people experience the magic of a padayatra through poor neighbourhoods. Let people interact with leaders in person. Instead, today, we have reduced politics to some distant-reality show that happens on television screens. No wonder voter turnouts are so low among the urban educated class.

To give youngsters a chance to experience democracy in action, I launched a Political Action Internship during this election. Around 100 students and IT professionals signed up. We had a workshop on different aspects of elections. Everyone went through the challenging grind of door-to-door campaigning. Some did research and analysis. Some helped with social media. They attended political rallies . They organized events that brought youth and political leaders together to set the agenda. They will do exit poll and serve as counting agents. They were featured in the media and on TV.

Their experiences have strengthened their commitment to India’s democracy. Let’s create more such opportunities for citizens to not just vote but to actively celebrate the festival of democracy.

The author is a Congress spokesperson

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