Reflections

Voting: all prices are fixed, final sale

A few posts back I wrote that the complacency of voters who don’t care enough to vote are one cause of corruption in the country that calls itself the largest democracy in the world. If I thought that was bad, reading about how voters accept ridiculously expensive gifts and straight-up cash from candidates who escort them to polling locations has got me fuming.

According to one report released by The Hindu Monday, 70% of campaign expenditures in the state of Andhra Pradesh go toward liquor and cash. That’s right–as in, liquor and cash handed out to voters to guarantee votes for the seemingly gracious party. As in…purchasing votes: “…candidates seek to purchase around 75,000. Each vote costs between Rs.200 and Rs.500. This time it is likely to go up to Rs. 1000 in some constituencies.”

Anyone else see a problem with this?

Apparently N. Bhaskara Rao, Chairman of the Centre for Media Studies in India, does. Thank God. I was beginning to worry that everyone here had accepted this as the norm. In his “How ‘notes for votes’ dampen democracy,” he too notes what was once cash handed out as a “thank you” to voters post-polling (still not admirable), has now become more of a “please vote for me” bribe by politicians who hold the voters’ hands all the way up to their polling locations to cast a vote in their favor.

But what actually bothers me isn’t even that political leaders try to buy votes. That’s a given. What’s disturbing is that the voters don’t care enough to actually exercise their individual franchise. When they’re willing to give it up for cash, it makes the jobs of the politicians too easy. And what’s “shocking” is that these instances are generally reported all across media, but with the tone that it is normal, expected, and practically mundane. As Rao himself wonders, “The Lok Sabha itself witnessed a shocking notes-for-votes episode in 2008, but has it now become a poll practice?”

However, voters need to understand that the small sums of cash or the electronic appliances they are given as gifts by party members to cast votes is offset in other ways once the party comes into power–my own house servants said the other day, “If they promise us one kilo of rice for two rupees, they’ll keep their promise and they’ll just increase the price of milk.” But the increased milk prices are only implemented post-election, so voters end up voting based on the promises made before votes are cast(/bought).

As Rao says, “the best bet is for voters themselves to reject the lure. They need to understand the link between notes for votesand the bribes citizens end up paying to get what they are entitled to get from the government and from their elected representatives.”

Alright, so I know for a fact one person has his wits about him. Now time to get through to the other one billion.

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