Rigging your vote?

As the polls draw near, reams of papers will be devoted to the cause of rigging. Or rather the problem of rigging in the polls. This rigging takes many forms – from the bogus voters on electoral rolls to proxy voting, and from buying of votes to heavy-handed behavior at the booths. Newsprint is full of instances where a candidate is shown displaying one or other form of rigging and so on. In fact, it would seem that a significant number of seats in India are decided not by votes but by the ability to rig the polls. Something that alludes to the failure of entire electoral process and defeat of democracy.

So, is that the reality? Well, a large part of it is. These practices do exist and do influence outcomes in small pockets. But then, this rigging has been there from Day One of electoral politics across the world. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that rigging votes can be a contributory factor to one’s success. And when it comes to India, few would argue that the scale has changed over years. What has changed is the fact that today we have wide and intense coverage – media highlights even the smallest instance of such irregularity wit utmost gusto. So, we are more aware – but that doesn’t mean that the problem is new. Rigging has been there forever and it is only now that we are subject to daily visible and multiple reminders of the same. But these are not on scale that they can overrule the people’s verdict, not yet at least.

The logic is simple but irrefutable – if rigging elections was so simple then the GOP of India, which held sway in fifties and sixties would have never lost its grip on power. But it lost and lost so significantly that it no longer hopes to come up winner on its own. In fact, even after being in power for last 5 years, it is still not assured to retain its set of seats in current round of electoral juggernaut. So, if rigging can’t help a ruling party to hold onto its seats, then there would be something flawed with the assumption that rigging can alter the electoral results.

How does this happen? Well, for one, to be able to do any illegal activity like rigging, be needs to be one’s own comfort zone. In other words, most of the rigging by a candidate happens in the area where he/she is already strong. In other words, it is logical to presume that even without rigging, the candidates would have polled similar votes. And when you have a candidate behaving like this, you can be sure that even his opponents would do the same. In other words, quite a bit of rigging ends up canceling out each other.

Second is the role of money. It is well-known that money (or excess of it) plays a major role in rigging. Now to say that a moneyed candidate won because of rigging is a bit of exaggeration. A moneyed candidate is naturally seen as a successful person and a majority of the people in the consistency would gravitate towards him – either because they would have received some favor from that person at some point of time or because they want to emulate him. So, in other words, that candidate enters the electoral fray with advantage over his opponents because of his monetary status and not because of rigging. For those who disagree with me, just look at the influence industrialists and erstwhile royalty have on their constituency even today. So, it is not all about money power in elections.

Thirdly, proponents of the rigging theory dish out the cases of elected criminals. Yes, there are some criminals who end up in our parliament. But unwarranted, excessive footage is dedicated to these folks – further romanticizing their stories. For one, they are hardly the decisive ones in the government formation – and even if they play a decisive role and become ministers, they are simply too inept to affect the functioning of their ministries. That the control passes onto the bureaucracy, is a matter of separate discussion. For now, it suffices to understand that the impact of such criminals is minimal in final government. That these criminals would in reality be the most popular personality is their constituency, is a matter of another debate – to be picked up later.

So, if rigging is not that big an issue, then should we even worry about it? The answer, unfortunately, is YES. Rigging may not be a problem today but its continued presence and our increased awareness of the same, can manifest into voter indifference very quickly. And it is very simple. If the candidate you voted for, didn’t win, you can always blame it on the rigging by the winner. And that can lead to a spiral of negativity which will eventually lead you out of the process. And guess what, that will allow proponents of rigging another opportunity. And like any self-feeding prophecy, rigging will indeed become the REAL force in elections. Therefore, the need of the hour is to exercise our franchise diligently and fearlessly; and in the knowledge that it does make a difference and that it does deal a blow to the electoral malpractices which we disillusion us and which we fear so much.

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