Yours truly is in India on vacation, and is reading the Sunday Magazine of the popular newspaper, The Indian Express. You can do so, too, online though online, the photographs and graphics are not as impressive as a two-page spread of large newspaper pages.
The Indian Express has named The Indian Voter as the "Face of the Year".
The elections referred to were for a handful of state assemblies ("Vidhan Sabha"), not for India's Parliament ("Lok Sabha"), and were held in early December.
In a year of political chaos and administrative drift, India fought back in Delhi and the heartland states which went to polls in the first week of December. The Angry Young Voter became the Face of the Year, seething with anger, upsetting political fortunes by turning out to cast ballots in record numbers. Who constitutes this new phenomenon that has stunned the establishment? Young, idealist, activist, wired, tech savvy, free-thinker, impatient, energetic, aggressive, alienated and angry— meet the new voters. Aged between 18 and 25, they are students, some employed, many unemployed, women and men, desperately in search of jobs and predominantly from middle class families.Beset by problems, the Indian voter did not turn cynical or apathetic, but turned out in record numbers.
The dominant issues that sent them in droves to booths were inflation, unemployment and women’s safety. Corruption by the ruling elite had been the theme of 2013, leading to massive protests in Delhi, Mumbai and other cities. Inability of the state to protect women was behind the anger that propelled large-scale participation of women voters everywhere.
Elections are held in India every five years. The turn-out for the state assembly elections in the last three cycles is as follows:
Please remember that these state elections, not accompanied with elections to the national Parliament, are akin to non-presidential-year elections in America.
The absolute numbers are also staggering to those unaccustomed to India's scale; though I won't mention them here. For those who read the article online - a lakh is 100,000, a crore is ten million. (e.g., India overall has 79 crore or 790 million people eligible to vote.)
At one voting booth:
The most determined to cast their franchise were young women, who determinedly searched for their names in the list. “I want to vote, and I am going to vote, so you better find my name fast,” said a young girl, ....... Her father peered over her shoulder at the list being examined by two officials. “Where’s my daughter’s name?” he asked. An official gestured helplessly at the crowd that had hemmed the table where the two sat. “I’m looking,” he said. “I’m a teacher. I want to vote too, but I’m stuck here.” The girl gave a little squeal as she pointed at the list. She had found her name and was ready to vote.Despite the unending stories of poor governance and corruption that come out of India, and find their way onto the pages and blogs of the New York Times and Washington Post, it would seem that Indians have not lost their faith in government as an institution, and in their ability to cause change by the ballot.
As I read the story, I cannot but wish that the American voter showed as much enthusiasm and energy. The 2012 Presidential elections, coming after four years of major economic distress, and major gridlock in Washington, had a turn-out of 53.6%. The 2010 elections, which gave us our much beloved do-nothing Republican Congress had a turn-out of 37.8% (source). The 63.1% turnout in 1960 has not been surpassed in five decades.
Clearly, many Americans feel that casting their ballot is an exercise in futility, and so do not bother. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Wake up, register, and go to the polls! If you vote at the 75% level in 2014, I guarantee you, not all the corporate money in the world will matter a dime; the politicians of this country will realize whom they are meant to serve. It will revive this democracy, and change America's fortunes for the better.