Former President K. R. Narayanan made history when he, with wife Usha, went to a nearby polling booth to vote on February 16, 1998, the first day of the General Elections. After standing in queue for a while with many of the Rashtrapati Bhavan staff, he cast his vote, becoming the first Indian President to exercise his franchise while in office. Presidents till then refrained from voting, as a sign of their ‘neutralness’.
Narayanan reasoned the other way about, stating that it is most natural for the citizen of a democratic country to vote. So, he being the first citizen of the country should set an example to the rest of the citizens by voting, which he did in the simplest possible way.
Celestina Cruz, a well-known journalist from Philippines, wrote commenting on the Indian Elections (1996) in the South China Morning Post (Hongkong): “That a populous country like India can change its leadership without a major political or social upheaval is admirable. India has shown the rest of the world what it means to be truly and intelligently free.”
Beautiful words of praise, I think, and well-deserved, too! But frankly speaking, a large measure of the credit for this should go to our masses. In spite of everything that goes wrong in the country, we have had uninterrupted elections, all through, and almost always, good majority of the Indian masses do go to the polling booths and cast their votes with the determination to make democracy work. Not only that democracy is ingrained in the Indian masses, but they still continue to believe in the power of democracy.
Vote we must, as citizens of the largest democracy in the world, exercising our ‘sacred’ right to choose our representatives to govern the country/state, till the next elections. I believe that one of the major reasons for the country reaching the pitiable state it is in today is the fact that a good number of the ‘educated class’ refuse to vote, when required to, for the flimsiest of reasons. Or when they do, they do not do so in the best interests of the nation. And the result — too many thugs and criminals continue to find their way to the Parliament and State Assemblies turning these into ‘market places’!
“Do not let gundas step into the sacred precincts of the Parliament and state assemblies (he was referring to politicians with criminal records) and desecrate them with their presence,” was Anna Hazare’s advice to the people of India as he began the third phase of his battle for a strong Lokpal Bill to curb corruption in public life.
Vote we must; and only for those who are known for their honesty, integrity and proven love for the nation, in addition to being readily answerable to the people whom they represent and who have voted them to power. All other considerations come only next!
If you are not yet eligible to vote, you will soon be eligible. So it is important that you become aware of this serious responsibility as early as you can, and prepare yourselves to take it up by keeping a watchful eye on those who pose themselves as ‘leaders’, by keeping abreast of what is happening around the country, and above all, by training yourselves to be leaders of a better calibre than the present lot.
The Indian masses may be illiterate, but intelligent. They somehow believe in their power to change a government. More than once they have thrown out, exercising their power, irresponsible governments, both at the Centre and in the States, when they were dissatisfied with their performances.
I doubt whether the above can be said about the ‘educated’ people of the country. They do talk about democracy a lot, but do not show half that interest when it comes to exercising their voting power.
The price we have to pay for keeping democracy alive is eternal vigilance!
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