In defence of the undecided voter
If at the end of last week you felt a sense of exhaustion and confusion, I am with you. Between the Delhi gang rape verdict, Uttar Pradesh riots and BJP benching its senior most leader and announcing its PM candidate, it has been a toilsome September so far. And there is going to be no lull till the general elections of 2014. Have you made up your mind which way you are going to vote? Or are you among those who are confused and undecided?
At the outset, we need to tick off those who sneer at undecided voters. The smugness of those who have decided which way they are going to vote is irritating. Those who haven’t decided who to vote for may not be just lazy or ignorant. They could be those who are not buying the message which others have so easily bought. They are taking their time to decide and that is important. Politicians realise it but political fans don’t. And the latter do a great disservice to the party or leader they adulate.
Firstly, many don’t have the time or energy to read reams and reams of copious data, follow riot hearings and listen to raucous TV debates about ‘encounter killings’ to make up their minds all that soon. Moreover, the degree of mistrust on the media is so high that many use “sab media chor hai” in the same breath as “sab neta chor hain”. It is thus hard to sift through propaganda and subtle editorial tilting to make informed choices. Many in urban India rely on the usual way to make a decision, which is to ask the kaam-vaali bai, cab driver, gym instructor, yoga guru or kitty party friends. Actually many columnists use similar sources to pen articles (Hey, that’s not a secret).
Secondly, the confusion is of whether to vote for the person or policy. Many of us are afflicted with this dilemma. There are many times I have not voted for a political party that I supported just because of the silly person they selected to represent my area. I didn’t vote for Rajesh Khanna (Congress) though my favourite Bollywood period is the seventies and I did not vote for Vijay Kumar Malhotra (BJP) even though I wanted to vote for BJP. It is indeed confusing whether to go with a thug who gets things done for himself and the constituency, or with a person with progressive values who may not even win his seat let alone stay on course with those values, if he does win.
A leader does not always need to have a tough or formidable personality to get my vote. Nor does he have to be weak and malleable. The anxiety in going for a tough talking leader who carries with him very negative baggage cannot be dismissed as imaginary. There are millions who want to see the wide chasm of inconsistencies between policies and statements lessen before making their choices. When a leader says he has crushed his dream to embrace ours, we want to know why he lacks ambition. If he is so non-ambitious, can he fulfil dreams that the Aam Admi has? It makes undecided voters question whether it is laziness coupled with a sense of entitlement.
There is a deep sense of disappointment in many Indians over missed chances and missed opportunities that could have truly made India a contender for the superpower status. And yet there is that slim ray of hope that by electing another set of leaders, one can perhaps still catch that rainbow of promise.
After all, that is the only way we know how to change things, through electoral politics.
Unlike rich democracies where people are rather rigid in the way they vote, in multiparty democracies where regional, caste, religious and linguistic considerations abound, the volatility is tremendous. This volatility comes from undecided voters. And undecided voters could get turned off by wheeling dealing before the campaign begins and the mud-slinging that happens during campaigning. Undecided voters could also be influenced by sops like alcohol on the one hand to the Food Bill on the other, and mixer-grinder, TV sets, and a gram of gold in between. Whether fickle or hesitant, the undecided voter is as important or more than the committed voter. Woo them, buy them, mock them or ignore them, it is today’s undecided voter who will decide the next set of occupants at Raisina Hill.
Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on Twitter @smitaprakash