As the bugle has been sounded for the 17th Lok Sabha election, political parties have begun declaring candidates and entered the last phase of forming alliances, disturbing reports are emerging about a large section of voters being denied their right to vote.
This situation, evolving or created, will only serve to weaken our claim as the largest democratic country in the world. Democracy will be meaningful only if every citizen gets an opportunity to exercise his franchise freely. When the denial of this right happens in the case of weaker sections, the matter assumes graver dimensions. When general elections become a ladder for the rich, upper caste and male chauvinists to ascend to positions in power, the people's faith in democracy itself will crumble. Survey reports that have come out recently say that about 15 per cent of total voters are out of the electoral process. Out of this 15per cent, three crore are Muslims. And out of the 20 crore voters among Dalits, four crore are currently outside the voters' list.
Among women who form half of the population, 2.1 crore are denied voting rights, as per a scientific study conducted by Ray Labs of Hyderabad. Most recently, it has also been reported that in Assam 1.2 lakh people are deprived of their right to vote. These are people who have been classified as 'doubtful' in the citizens' register. During the last elections too, they were denied right to vote. It is an easy guess that the people behind this sleight of hand are the right-wing forces, vowed to capture power over the country by any means, and officials who dance to their tunes. All the same, none of the parties who swear by the secular democracy of the country, is vigilant at the required time about such planned moves. At least the parties who exhort backward and weaker minority communities to rally behind them for their survival, should make meaningful moves to enrol the voters' in the list those who are likely to vote for them.
Another grave threat that bedevil the survival of democracy is the undeniable dominance of black money and the illicitly rich. While Election Commission has set a ceiling of Rs 70 lakhs for the amount that can be spent for the campaign of one Lok Sabha candidate, the actual spending is not less that five or ten times that. Clearly all this is not accounted money. Crores of rupees change hands first for grabbing candidature, then for paid news and finally to buy up votes of poor people – all motivated by the hope that once victorious, they can recover the entire amount. One need not search elsewhere for the reason of proliferation of corruption and of billionaires virtually taking control of power. No one has forgotten that National Democratic Alliance (NDA) which walked into power on the back of the popular stir by Anna Hazare against corruption during United Progressive Alliance (UPA), had promised to wipe out corruption and to bring back the black money deposited in financial havens abroad. The nation has also seen what happened after that. When the alliance seeks a mandate again, the conspiracy and tactics that underlie the efforts of the Modi-Amit Shah duo to make parties and individuals defect, are all too clear to discerning people. The illict means used to make top leaders and those with influence jump ship from Congress and allied parties, are mostly stuff of public knowledge. The attractions that make the defectors suddenly aware of Narendra Modi the chowkidar, are money, positions and release from criminal cases.
If real patriots in the country wish to stem the tide of the nation towards an extreme right-wing totalitarianism, it is imperative for them to unite and defeat the tendencies that weaken democracy. Every one pining for virtue to prevail has to enter the fray, albeit late now, to get the names of all Indian citizens enrolled in voters' list, to create an atmosphere for the free and fearless exercise of franchise, and to be vigilant against the hijacking of democracy with the tail-wind of flood of black money. In parallel, it is equally important to push aside the habitual defectors, the aya raams and gaya raams.