I have not written an op-ed before but I decided to put down my thoughts after the much awaited Tamil Nadu election results. On April 13th, I was extremely thrilled to vote after a long gap. As I had been out of India for almost 5 years, my name did not appear in the voter list of 2009 parliament elections. I didn’t want to miss the chance this time and made sure my name was in the list. The day after the polling, I was pleasantly surprised to see that most of my fellow colleagues had voted and that some of them even travelled hundreds of Kilometers away to their villages to cast their vote. When one of my colleague commented that it didn’t matter whether Rama or Ravana rules (like the Tamil song which goes:Raman aandalum Ravanan aandalum enakoru kavalai illa), all others pounced to correct him.
Why was this election so important for the people of Tamil Nadu? Why was there a record breaking 78% polling? Tamil Nadu has always seen anti-incumbency over the last two decades but this election was much more significant than any of them before. Why? Because, this time ‘Democracy’ was very much at stake. Unfortunately, democracy is visible and functional in India only during the elections. At other points of time, the poor and the middle class have little chance of getting their voice heard. While citizens and civil society organizations have been trying to make our democracy more functional and meaningful through their various struggles over several decades, Tamil Nadu over the last three years has been used as an experimental lab to wipe out whatever little democracy exists.
It all started with the Thirumangalam byelection when huge amounts of money were allegedly given to voters to buy votes. The Election Commission had a nightmare and even thought of postponing the election. The ruling party’s candidate won by a huge margin and everyone attributed this victory to the money distributed. The same formula was adopted in the successive bye-elections and voters were seen as ‘buyable’ by the ruling party. When I was in the field this time, one of the ruling party’s panchayat presidents boasted how he had completed the task of distributing Rs 500 each to all households in the panchayat. When quizzed about the nearest constituency offering Rs 1000, the panchayat president said that his boss in the ruling party was confident that Rs 500 would do the job. The ruling party started thinking that whatever they did otherwise wouldn't matter and they were confident of buying voters, indeed the democracy itself. Can voters be so easily bought or were voters underestimated? Even people like Anna Hazare oversimplified the Indian voters when he said in an interview that today’s voters vote for a bottle of liquor.
Finally, on Friday, May the 13th, all such assumptions were shattered as the results were announced. It was a clear message that the government failed to deliver on their expectations. After the results, all TV channels have been arguing whether the DMK lost because of 2G or power- cuts or nepotism or price rise or non delivery of welfare schemes etc. While it is not clear which one contributed more, what most clearly came out of this election is that people’s vote cannot be bought for Rs 500 or 1000. Assuming Rs 500 to Rs 1000 per household were given to one crore households, a total of Rs 500 to Rs 1000 crores of blackmoney must have passed on to the voters. Even though the election commission did a great job, it probably managed to only catch the tip of the iceberg. Yes, the voters took the money but they were very clear in their mind that they will vote for the person they think is better for them. It is not a particular party but democracy that emerged victorious in this TN election. Democracy won over the money and muscle power. In today’s politics there might be no Rama, but the voters are clear that they will definitely vote out the ruling Ravana. Tamil Nadu voters have always done so over the last two decades and this election will assume greater significance in our memory for its role in saving democracy.
Jayaram Venkatesan is a social worker based in Chennai.