Elections are over. They were critical, some say. The results might have a bearing on the soul of India. They will certainly have a bearing on the social fabric of India. Critical elections tend to be fraught. The level of political discourse sank to new lows as political parties vied for votes. Despicable things were said by candidates, but most disturbing of all was the rampant use of hate speech and communal polarization.
Public discourse mirrored political discourse – especially on social media. There was no room for debate. Conversations became impossible. People threatened and abused each other, frothing at the mouth. Everyone was talking, but no one was listening.
Media houses took sides. The most powerful ones sided with the ruling party. Partisanship was not underpinned by advocating the political or policy narratives. It was fueled by canards, fake news, and gas lighting.
These Elections Represent A Rich Tradition Validating Hopes of the Founders of Our Democracy
Public institutions kept pace with private media houses. It’s likely the Election Commission did not do all it could to conduct a free and fair election. It is apparent that it did not do all it could to seem just and impartial. Alongside institutions, civil liberties crumbled. So did the bust of Vidyasagar. Even Gandhi was not spared. Violent incidents were rampant. As were eulogies to Nathuram Godse. A terror-accused hailed him as a patriot. She also happens to be a candidate for the ruling party – first amongst equals in a long list of candidates with serious criminal charges.
But none of these bloated, smug, highly-visible actors could take away from what these elections represent – a rich tradition that validates the audacious hope of the founders of this unlikely democracy. The damage is done. The curtain falls. What remains is the faith of those who see this democracy through its many ordeals. The very masses who naysayers believed would let it down because they were too poor, too illiterate, made these exhausting elections worthwhile. And in this brief moment of calm, before the storm tomorrow, here is a dedication to unsung heroes.
To The Lone Old Priest...
To the lone old priest in a forest reserve. The only voter for miles who votes unfailingly in a booth set up exclusively for him.
To the nearly blind old woman in Ahmedabad who can no longer iron clothes for a living or visit her son who is in prison for having burnt a Muslim political leader alive, but borrows enough money for a bus ticket to get to a booth.
To the middle-aged woman sitting expectantly by a dry tap, waiting for it to yield water, so she can cook and make it in time to vote.
To her husband who is a potato farmer who cannot remember the last time his family had a square meal but is voting not for his own interests but what he believes is in the interest of national security.
To the young man who saw his sister raped and family massacred in the riots of 2002, bore witness in court to the horrors, voted for the first time in 2014 as an eighteen- year-old, and firmly believed the party complicit in the riots would not be voted by his country into power.
To the Man with Polio...
To another young man, the first engineering graduate in his village, who travels 80 kms a day to work as a cobbler and lies about having a government job and is voting in the hope that he will actually find one.
To another young man who is anxiously waiting to be picked up by a contractor in the labour mandi so he can finish work on a construction site in time to vote.
To the 70-year-old Dalit woman who spends her time helping illiterate men and women find their names on voters’ lists online since she was disqualified from standing for the Panchayat elections – after a decade of being an exemplary sarpanch – for not having gone to school.
To the 26-year-old Dalit Christian woman, who was raped in a church, and has not left home since she decided to complain against her rapist, squirming in a long line of voters, avoiding eye contact with hostile members of her parish.
To the 19-year-old Brahmin girl who broke into her father’s cupboard to retrieve her voter identity card that he had locked up to prevent her from voting for a party he strongly dislikes.
To the 67-year-old Brahmin man who tells anyone who will listen that Muslims are traitors, but gave up his queue to join his Muslim cycle mechanic in arguing with the polling officer, because the latter’s name had been deleted from the list.
To the man with polio who has crawled to the booth.
To the Landless Labourers Who Walked for 5 Hours...
To the man who ran away from the booth as crude bombs were hurled at it, smoked a bidi around the corner and came back to vote half an hour later.
To the landless labourers who walked five hours to get to the polling stations and were beaten up for missing the day’s work.
To the anganwadi women who have been on a hunger strike for 6 days but broke their dharna and carried their placards to vote.
To the woman who voted, against her alcoholic husband’s wishes, for the party whose leader implemented prohibition, because the leader had kept his promise even though it did not stop her husband from drinking.
To the private driver who took two trains and a boat to vote for a right-wing party, in order to defeat the ruling party in his state, that he believes will obliterate the left-wing party he has supported all his life.
To the Muslim weaver who voted for the right-wing party whose workers razed his shop because he believes that if a weak secular coalition comes to power they will fail – and strengthen right-wing forces inadvertently.
To the cancer patient who spent six years as an under-trial before being exonerated of all charges, and is still bitter he could not vote in the last elections because, in his own words, “they talk about letting NRI people vote but not innocent people who are jailed, because they have no money for bail.”
To the Toothless Man Who Grinned...
To the shopkeeper who shut shop and waited in line for hours on end while the booth suspended voting due to a faulty EVM, and relied on the kindness of strangers to hold his place as he stepped aside to offer namaz.
To the toothless man who grinned and told me that the clouds gathering overhead would go away because Lord Indra would not allow rain to ruin voting day – and they did.
To the unrelenting man arguing that his father should be allowed to vote even though he was suffering from acute dementia and had come to vote VP Singh out of power, for instituting reservations.
To the pregnant wife of a poet of democracy, hounded and locked up on bogus charges of being a Naxalite, who showed up to vote two days before giving birth, because that is what her husband would have wanted her to do.
To the Hijra Who Shouted Expletives...
To the hijra who shouted expletives at an officer because her name was not on the voting list, before leaving in a huff saying, “I will come back here as prime minister, you will see”.
To the illicit liquor seller who defied Naxals to vote, and called me three days after voting, utterly pleased with himself, to tell me he was still alive.
To the retired schoolteacher who was asked not to leave his house on voting day by workers of the ruling party in the state, because they suspected he will vote against them, and who was found dead in a pond for defying them.
To his son who was warned not to step out by workers of the same party who had murdered his father five years ago, but went anyway without so much as a second thought.
To the Sex Worker Who Went Back to Her Village to Vote...
To the factory worker who signed the register with a pen in his mouth and voted with his feet, because he lost his left hand when a machine malfunctioned, and his right hand when he was beaten for refusing to settle with factory owners for their negligence.
To the young girl in Trilokpuri who was incredibly excited to vote for the first time in 2014, who wanted to set up her own beauty parlour, and provide a decent living to her parents who survived the 1984 riots, and who will never vote again because she died of a ruptured appendix because her parents could not afford treatment.
To the sex worker who went back to her village to vote and told the sarpanch who was offering her Rs 2,000 to vote for a particular party to back off, because she makes “enough money to buy him and put him to work”.
To the housewife in a Delhi slum who took money from a candidate and promised to vote for her only to turn to me and grin, once the candidate and her supporters had left, and say, “What a choice idiot she is to think I will.”
To the widow of a debt-ridden farmer who killed himself, who travels to nearby villages and performs a puppet show to educate people about their voting rights.
To Every Single Indian I Have Met at Polling Booths...
To every single Indian I have met at polling booths across the country and am indebted to. And to countless others who debate, evaluate, and understand both politics and governance instinctively; who weigh innumerable factors and make informed decisions from amongst the abysmal choices they have. None of them will be talked about tomorrow except as a number in a mass that is to be condemned or lauded or dismissed by different sets of experts depending on who ends up in power. But long after the empty rhetoric of talking heads has died down, their infinite patience, courage, and commitment will persist. The Indian state does not deserve the faith of its electorate, that abides in the face of abject betrayal.
But India needs it more than ever, to go on.
(Pragya Tiwari is a Delhi-based senior journalist, who was formerly with Vice India. She tweets at @PragyaTiwari. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for them.)