What We Owe To Each Other: Why I Changed My Mind About Voting In India

Cynicism gets us nowhere.
Cynicism gets us nowhere. Nidhi Iyer for Homegrown

“Political democracy cannot last unless there lies at the base of it social democracy.” - Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar

There was a time where I thought voting was pointless; where I flat-out refused to vote.

I think cynicism and apathy are often the paths of least resistance across the lives we lead. It’s effortless to pretend that nothing changes or that your voice or actions will mean zilch in the grand scheme of things. It requires zero vulnerability or empathy to convince yourself that everything is pointless and that life will move irrespective of what you do. 

There’s a reason that almost every teenager or young adult looking for an excuse to rebel looks to nihilistic perspectives as a form of solace and emancipation. It creates the illusion that you’re moving against the tide by rejecting participation in society. There’s an allure to not giving a shit; to saying, “Fuck this, I’m out.” It makes you feel special and even validated for having such an ‘evolved’ critical process. You’ve seen what the system has to offer and you’ve rejected it. You’re a rebel without a cause; a lone wolf. You strut around proudly as Sigma music intensifies in the background. 

This was me in 2014 and in 2019 — aged 19 and 25 respectively. Looking back I’m embarrassed that this was my outlook. I was arrogant, brash, and outspoken and felt that what I was doing was in some way revolutionary; that I could somehow change things from the outside

The unfortunate reality of the situation, as I would come to learn, is that the world we live in today, with all its strife and inequality, has been in part paved by the apathy and cynicism of those who had the power to affect change and be a force for good, but instead chose to stand by and do nothing. 

I realised that I couldn’t change the status quo from the outside; that the machine that exists was far too big to be halted by a lone individual armed with nothing but ideals, arrogance, and naivete. To truly make a lasting change, you have to, to a point, cooperate and participate. You have to be adaptable and be willing to grow and learn from people with more experience. You have to understand that every single vote has immeasurable power to shape the reality of civil society. You have to be willing to take the time to understand the full gravity of what that means. 

We’re currently being presented with an opportunity to exercise the single most powerful freedom granted to us by our constitution; the ability to vote. 

For representational purposes only.
For representational purposes only. Hindustan Times

Governments, just like the people they represent, are never perfect. They are flawed, chaotic, turbulent and have the capacity to make mistakes. Indeed, there has never been a representational body in the history of civil societies across the world that has done everything right with an unblemished record. However, the very least we can ask for from the government we elect is that it is committed to the ideals of the Constitution that we hold dear; ideals such as liberty, plurality, and secularism.

There are many who will be quick to point out that any and all of the alternatives on the ballot are equally culpable; that they are all one side of the same coin, so voting is pointless. But if everyone embraced such a fatalistic outlook we would never make any progress. Life is rarely black and white and in order to move forward we have to look at the relative good of each choice we make, whether it's in our personal lives, our professional lives, or while choosing who to vote for.

Yes, every single party you could potentially vote for has their respective failings. Every party has, at some point in history or time contributed to the problems we see today and almost everything we’ve seen so far is a clear indication that we have to be careful when choosing who to elect

However, the best way to avoid making a mistake is not to dig your head into the sand and scream, “Everyone sucks, so I’m not going to vote.” Instead, you have to ask yourself which choice would do the most relative good. 

Which choice would ensure minorities in this country never have to worry about their homes and businesses being razed to the ground in the blink of an eye? Which choice would best safeguard the liberties and personal freedoms of women and people who identify as women? Which choice would best bridge the gap between the haves and the have-nots while still allowing for growth, personal endeavour, and entrepreneurship? Which choice would protect our most vulnerable? Which choice fosters an environment of ethics, patience, and understanding? Which choice would prepare us for a climate crisis that we’re very much ill-prepared for? Which choice is prepared to make difficult, anti-populist decisions for the greater good? It is all of this and more that you have to ask yourself before the end of this month. 

These are all the questions that I’m going to ask. But what are the questions you’ll be posing to yourself? Because that’s the beauty of democracy; you get to decide for yourself. 

When I’m exercising my right to vote, I’m remembering every freedom fighter and patriot who’s protested, fought, and even given their lives to allow every single one of us the right to do so. I’m channeling the very democratic spirit that has brought our nation together since our emancipation from the evils of empire. I’m drawing a line in the sand and standing up for those who have been rendered voiceless second-class citizens in their own country. I’m issuing a clarion call of solidarity for like-minded individuals who believe in the fundamental tenets of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I’m sending a message to those who’ve subverted democracy to aid their ends that tells them that I will no longer be docile; that I will never again be a spectator to the ethical and existential decay of my people; nor will I forsake my bonds of brotherhood and kindness in pursuit of development with no guardrails that serves one but not another. 

For representational purposes only
For representational purposes onlyEPA

This election is where we not only take back our nation; it’s where we take back our humanity and our sense of common good. It’s where we look beyond the bottom line and the profit motive and start seeing people as more than just statistics. It’s where we start to value every life. It gives us the chance to uphold our constitution and the principles that have come to define us.

For the last few years, every single person, irrespective of political affiliation or leaning has made a number of large missteps through both action and inaction. But we’ve also gotten some things right and there’s plenty of room for more of that. Your vote could be a beacon of light that leads the way forward and ushers in an era of sustained collective good.

It’s not hard to see how we’ve become desensitised and disillusioned but we have to snap out of it, shake ourselves out of our stupors, and steel ourselves for what’s going to be a battle for the very soul of our nation. 

Come election day, remember all that you stand for and channel that into the choice that you believe best represents a brighter future for everyone. There’s light at the end of the tunnel but you have to vote in order for us to get there. 

In the words of David Mitchell, “No matter what you do it will never amount to anything but a single drop in a limitless ocean. But what is an ocean but a multitude of drops?”

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