Price tag on votes

Yutan Sunya
Youth 1: Is baar vote karne ke liye kitna paisa mila tha?
Youth 2: Hum logon ko 5000 mila hai.
Youth 3: Dhet, yeh toh student union election se bhi kam hai.
Hum log koh 20,000 mila hai.
Youth 2: Tum log ka MLA log dhani hai na.
Youth 1: Hum log ka toh aur bhi gareeb. Sirf 2000 mila hai.
Nahi jeetega lagta hai.
Youth 2: Paisa nahi hone se kyun election larta hai na?
Youth 1 & 3: Ha toh!
“Every nation gets the government it deserves.” Words of French philosopher Joseph de Maistre raise serious questions on our ability to elect a government when governments are riddled with corruption charges. We pride ourselves for being a democracy where we assume, falsely so, that the government will address the aspirations of citizens reasonably and govern with equality and justice. But the very fact that ‘politics’ or ‘politician’ invariably invokes the word ‘corruption’ in our minds indicate that we continue to delude ourselves as we have for decades.
Given our unique demography and culture, our politics does not align with the national narrative on many counts. To illustrate with an example: the Hindutva politics does not resonate with us since we are either Christians, Buddhists or of indigenous faith. We are heavily invested in tribalism and clan politics. Every member of the clan is morally expected to vote in unison on the premise that the clan benefits from a win. “Future prospects of government jobs and contracts are unwritten pacts within the clan”. This is particularly true of local elections like, state assembly, panchayat and municipalities. More local the election, greater the role played by clan loyalties.
Unlike other states, we do not have a strong political identity and tend to ally with the power at the centre. Every election season witnesses a scramble for the ruling party ticket. The ticket comes with the assurances of a strong backing of grass-root party workers and most important of all – money.
Our voters expect to be paid. And, therein lay the rub ‘our votes are for sale’. As sad as it is, voters tend to stray away from the real purpose of elections and prioritize individually motivated interests over agendas of development and progress. Everyone talks big about fighting corruption but fails to act on it when the time comes. Many believe the trend of buying or selling votes began with some hopeful candidates luring the voters with money, while some argue, it was the voters themselves who started selling their votes for instant gratification. Either way, it’s pathetic.
Whenever scandals of the elected hit the news waves for corruption, misbehaviour and incompetence, it should be a warning bell for us. They are reflective of us as a society and it becomes imperative to introspect on our politics and the ethical lapses in it.
Two of our former chief ministers have either been charged or arrested for corruption. Scams like PDS and APSSB are etched deep in our minds. In 2019 elections, five crores of unaccounted cash was seized by the state police; 1.8 crore cash was found in a former BJP leader’s vehicle allegedly meant for the BJP candidates ahead of the prime minister’s rally in Pasighat.
Our independent intelligence gathering initiative has thrown up an alarming fact that huge amounts of suspicious cash have been deposited in banks, including in rural and co-operative banks in the weeks preceding the announcement of the election dates. Similarly, huge amounts of suspicious cash have also been withdrawn. This statement of Income Tax (Investigation) Deputy Director in April 2019 clearly suggests that involvement of money in our elections is more than what meets the eye.
Abraham Lincoln said, “Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.”
Evidently, we have been sitting on our blisters for years now. Money and personal favours in exchange for votes are one of those uncomfortable truths that are accepted as part of the system. It is funny how we talk about “the system” as a detached entity almost diluting our share in it. We are what makes the system and perhaps it is time we face the harsh reflection of our realities in the mirror.
Why have politicians become the go-to solutions for our needs; hospital fees, children’s education and sometimes as flimsy as recreations? All major events are headlined by politicians because we expect a fat donation. Politicians have become a perpetual source of money for us – pre and post elections. Although this does not justify their corruption, which is far more self-serving, but do our demands perpetrate more corruption? Absolutely, yes! Veiled corruption on our part not only emboldens politicians but also become insurance for their re-election.
Corruption and corrupt politicians are symptoms of a failing state akin to a sick body. It is paramount to diagnose accurately to identify the cause and cure. In a democracy, we, the voters are both the cause and cure. The onus is on us to choose. Either we continue to put blindfolds and go about business as usual or step up to bring about a change long overdue.
Realists say, the system is too far gone and it would take generations to change. It is true if we refuse to accept our contribution to this flawed system. We can’t pawn off the blame solely on our political leaders regardless of the precedence of their corruption. We are equally culpable because we do not hold them accountable. Our indifference and inclination to overlook real issues will be our unbecoming as a society.
As Albert Einstein said, “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil but by those who watch them without doing anything.”
(Yutan Sunya is a former APCS officer. In this column she raises the issues all of us know exist but don’t acknowledge.)