A vote is a tick of faith given to a particular party or candidate that the voter believes in; it is not is an endorsement of what a perceived majority might or might not want

Franchise, suffrage or the right to vote is something integral to a democracy. It is the right that allows all eligible citizens to decide which political party they want representing their interests in the process of law-making. Indian democracy combines this right within the framework of a multiparty democracy. In other words, there are several political entities of various ideological hues who can justly aspire to political power and who can be voted to office. In a country as large and fantastically diverse as India, it makes sense to have a multiparty democracy, something that our Constitution writers no doubt envisaged. It allows a variety of interests, often regional, to be represented, which is the pulse of any healthy, functioning federal system.

One of the most common traits of a multiparty democracy is the fact that often a single party does not get a simple majority to govern. It has to combine itself with other like-minded (often very unlike-minded) groupings to stitch together a coalition in order to govern. Given this reality, it comes as a surprise that one of the bogeys being raised this election is that of the “wasted vote.” The electorate is repeatedly being told that to vote for a party that might not get a majority or might get too few seats is to “waste” a vote. That is one of the most specious and cynical arguments I have heard in a while. A vote is an opinion, a stamp of approval, a tick of faith given to a particular party or candidate or political philosophy that an individual believes in strongly. What a vote most emphatically is not is an endorsement of what a perceived majority might or might not want, or what it thinks is good for the country. Let us recall what Mahatma Gandhi said: “Even if I am a minority of one, the truth is still the truth.”

In other words, whether the candidate or political party you want to vote for is going to win one, two, or two hundred seats is immaterial — by voting you are categorically stating your personal preference for who you would like to be governed by. How then can that ever be a wasted vote? If the particular political dispensation you choose does not get a majority, it is fine because what your vote then represents is a voice of dissent, of diversity, of opposition. And without that we would not have a functioning democracy.

In the drive to ensure that one party gets a simple majority, voters are being fed a mix of bluff and half-truths whose basic drift is that it might not actually be quite patriotic to vote for any party that might not get an outright majority because it would amount to vote fragmentation, a coalition government, and — horror of horrors — an unstable government. We would do well to recall at this point that for the last 10 years we have had a single coalition governing at the centre without a break: an example of a stable government, but a government that the population is sick of and is looking to change. Clearly, stability is not some wonderful synonym for a perfect central government, or the single most desirable feature the country is seeking today. What the population also wants is a clean, responsive and accountable government. One of the ways to try and make this happen is to vote in a new government that promises this chimera — not just vote for stability or a simple majority or a cynical numbers game.

Second, let us also remember that some of the worst failures of the outgoing government have stemmed as much from its own mistakes as from an absolutely irresponsible Opposition. So, this election in many ways is as much about voting in a new, strong and responsible opposition as it is about voting in a new government.

Advent of young voters

As regional parties get stronger across the country, the chances of a single party holding sway at the centre are becoming more remote and less desirable. As our democracy gets more mature, there is nothing more foolish than imagining that the voice of the majority is the voice of the country. American political theorist James Madison once famously said: “There is no maxim, in my opinion, which is more liable to be misapplied… than the current one, that the interest of the majority is the political standard of right and wrong.”

Crucially, this election is seeing young, first-time voters outnumber other demographics. It is important that they know that regardless of the size of the pie they represent, their choices can and will shape the next Parliament.

vaishna.r@thehindu.co.in

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