My newsfeed on Facebook and Twitter is filled today with millenials, like me, who voted in an Indian election for the first time posting pictures of their fingers marked with indelible ink. Without any concrete demographic information, but based on what I saw anecdotally, the eventual 66% voter turnout probably comprised a significant portion of millenials.
For me, it feels weird that the first time I’ve ever voted in elections was in the UK, not these Delhi Elections. I’d have taken my phone along to take pictures, had I known it was allowed. I saw many people at my polling station with phones, although I’ve heard other reports that people had to leave their phones outside. (The Election Commission of India’s website, unfortunately, has no FAQ for voters. For some reason, they also keep two designs for the website live.)
My newsfeed is filled with ink-stained finger pics. I think Election Commission of India should tie-up with Instagram to verify voter count.
— Ankur Banerjee (@ankurb) December 4, 2013
The process was surprisingly painless. I only had to wait for fifteen minutes before I got my turn to vote, with the usual procedure of checking electoral rolls and inking of my finger. And it was at that point I headed to an electronic voting machine, behind a bewildered old couple who’d never seen the contraption, and cast my vote for Congress.
Ever since I’ve been back in Delhi, I’ve been trying to decide which party to vote for. I’m not particularly in touch with Indian politics these days (I don’t even read newspapers here) but it’s hard to escape the constant cacophony of various parties conducting rallies and advertisements everywhere.
Every day on my daily run, I would hear at least one ad on the radio from BJP, with an annoying jingle about how they will reduce prices of vegetables and remove corruption. There are hoardings at bus stops talking about prices of onions and the number of rapes in Delhi. While both are sad in their own right, I can’t see myself supporting a political party which bases its entire campaign on ad hominem attacks trying to play on the anti-incumbency factor. Reducing the debate to prices of vegetables is a joke, given that it’s a lot to do with inflation in the Indian and global economy at large, rather than a local factor. More importantly, it isn’t as if BJP is particularly spotless when it comes to a track record in combating corruption.
But perhaps my biggest reason for not supporting a Hindu fundamentalist, right-wing party like the BJP is because of its prime ministerial candidate for the general elections next year: Narendra Modi, who features prominently in their advertising campaigns across Delhi. I believe it’s a matter of national shame for India that a person who sat by and watched as one of the worst communal riots happened in India got off scot-free, and is in the running for the Prime Minister of India. For his face
Perhaps the same argument could be lobbed towards Congress politicians for the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. My grandfather himself sheltered Sikh families in his house when those riots took place and risked his life to turn away mobs who were going house-to-house looking to murder people. Yet, as far as I know, none of those perpetrators are running for the post of running the entire country, even though they may or may not have been convicted.
I don’t care for argument that go along the lines of “Gujarat has advanced a lot under Narendra Modi”. That sounds just like the argument supported Adolf Hilter’s rise to power in Nazi Germany. I cannot support a politician who is so morally bankrupt and who has never apologised for the 2002 Gujarat riots.
My second choice was the Aam Aadmi Party. Started by political activist Arvind Kejriwal, the party has built its credentials on an anti-corruption platform. When I first saw their logo (on a McDonald’s TV screen, no less), I actually thought “Aam Aadmi Party” was a tagline Congress was using, because of AAP’s use of tricolours in their logo.
AAP certainly has been loud and vocal about what they want to do, and because of the pedigree of their leader, I wanted to check out their manifesto (summary in English, entire manifesto in Hindi). They make quite a few lofty promises: reducing electricity bills, 700 litres of free water per day, schools and hospitals in every neighbourhood, et al. All very noble goals, but nowhere does their manifesto do they mention where they will find the money to do all of their stated goals. Higher taxes? Surely that’s not going to be better for the “common man”.
For instance, take their promise of providing 700 litres of free water per day, per household. According to a paper published in 2008, the average daily household consumption of water in most Indian cities is 400 litres, so 700 litres is vastly generous. But why should this be provided for free? Access to clean water is a right worth fighting for and there are many parts of Delhi which go without it, and eliminating a revenue source completely (because it’s unlikely most households would ever exceed their free quota) isn’t generate revenue to expand water coverage across Delhi households.
Similarly, they claim to have 20% of Delhi’s power needs generated by solar energy in the next ten years. Projections from academic studies as well as the Central Electricity Authority show power demand in Delhi is expected to rise sharply. While it talks of solar energy in ten years’ time, taking the projected demand for next year – 8500 MW – 20% of that figure is 1700 MW, more than the entire capacity generated by Delhi’s current gas-powered power plants. Another policy from the Indian government aims for 20 GW of power generation through solar means by 2020, but that’s a) across India b) energy needs will be at 2x of current levels by then.
Another major point with respect to electricity is the AAP’s skepticism about electric meters, yet electronic meters – of the kind currently in use and future generations of smarter meters – have been shown to help cut down electricity theft, a big problem before the privatisation of Delhi’s electricity supply.
Other parts of their manifesto ring alarm bells too. Although not mentioned in the summary, the main manifesto document say they aim to increase CCTV usage to “cut down on corruption”. Another part of the document aims to make alcohol licenses harder to get, as well as vigilante-justice type local committees to cut down on alcohol consumption. This aversion to alcohol sound very similar to Anand Kejriwal’s former political partner Anna Hazare’s tack of publicly flogging anyone who drank in his “model” village.
Overall, the impression that I get is that while Aam Aadmi Party certainly has many moralistic individuals, they’re either making lofty claims as a sort of checklist, or are dangerously naïve about the economics of what their policies are going to cost. They also are verging on the side of setting up a nanny state that’s always watching, always judging what its citizens are doing. And that, frankly, isn’t the direction India should be heading towards.
Which brings me to Congress. Their manifesto list out achievements they’ve accomplished during their 15 years in power in Delhi; solid facts and figures on how they have changed life for Delhi citizens for the better. I remember a time when we had power cuts stretching to hours, having to fetch water from tankers, smog from pollution that used to blanket this city – which changed after they introduced the world’s largest fleet of CNG-based public transport, the Delhi Metro…the list of achievements go on. It’s for this proven track record, rather than hot air that only surfaces during elections, for which I’ve voted for the Congress. I will support them in the general elections next year, and I supported them in these Delhi elections.