Clearly not spoilt for choice

The February civic elections in Bombay are the only elections since my coming of age that I have missed out on getting my forefinger painted with black ink. I had to head out of town for the wedding of my niece and, while I knew which event was more important to me and mine, I still had a twinge of regret at not being able to participate in that election.

Now I am not so sure it was not a bad thing, after all. When I started out as a voting adult, I began by voting for the candidate rather than any party: even though the first person I voted for lost his deposit, it was still satisfying that my vote had counted for the margin by which he was saved the embarrassment of being at the bottom of the pile – he came in second-last. By a margin of one! But he had referred to me as ‘beta’ when he came canvassing for votes and the Congress candidate had been so arrogant and rude: I couldn’t care less my candidate lost, just that my vote had, after all, counted.

I kept to that principle I had set for myself for years even as I became a journalist and then a political correspondent for various leading newspapers, magazines and agencies. When a judge-friend of mine did not vote after ascending to the Bench (reason: he did not wish his personal biases to ever come in the way of his judgments as many political cases come to his court), I scolded him for allowing his vote to be possibly grabbed by goons and others who, at the end of the day, more often than not, indulge in bogus-voting in favour of their candidates.

“You should, at least, have gone to the booth and cancelled your vote,” I complained.

Now I could not do that myself this year and can only hope it did not go the wrong candidate. But not voting is no longer much of a sore point with me: for just look at the kind of politicians and parties we have. Where are the choices any longer?

If the Congress is in a state of disarray, so is the BJP, the other leading party in India. If the Congress is not able to handle its allies, the BJP is not able to handle its own men: to quote, most famously, BS Yeddyurappa in Karnataka, their Rajya Sabha candidate Anshuman Misra in Jharkhand and the one in Maharashtra, Ajay Sancheti (elected unopposed), who now seems all mixed up in the Adarsh society scam and might prove as embarrassing to the party in Maharashtra as Mishra had in Jharkhand before he withdrew his nomination.

I am pained to say this but in this regard I must gently fault my good friend Nitin Gadkari who has shown poor judgment and been tempted by long friendships and other kinds of help offered by various businessmen to the BJP and uncaringly offered them nominations that have gone/might only go to embarrass his party as a whole. In that regard, his judgment was again at fault when he earlier gave Yeddyurappa a clean chit by saying he may have done ‘morally’ wrong but not ‘legally’ wrong. No wonder, then, that after the dismissal of one case against him by the courts, Yeddy believes he now owns both Karnataka and the BJP and is clamouring to be reinstated – a move, if it happens, set to hand the Congress a stick to beat the BJP with for all time to come, never mind what the party’s apologists might say.

The Congress has its share of judicial setbacks and the Adarsh case is a sword hanging over its head. But the party was clever then to force the resignation of its then chief minister who is certainly no Yeddyurappa and will never dare pose a threat to his party high command. But that still does not spoil one for choice. There was a time when a mere breath of a mention in any negative form in the press would drive the politicians indoors – they would even refuse to dine out with you in public restaurants, et al. Today, they are so laid back, they have no qualms about the hundreds of Swords of Damocles over their heads and briskly go about their business as though nothing ever happened. And when election time comes around either they or their close relatives get party tickets again. So who do you vote for in that case?

For the moment, I am glad that the series of elections due in my part of the world, at least, are done with and there are two more years to make up my mind. But do I have any hope that I and my friends who think alike will be spoilt for choice in 2014? Well, only if pigs learn to fly by then, I guess.

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