December 23, 2008

A common bank of votes and notes

On November 29th, hours after the terror attack in Bombay was finally defeated, three bloggers got a note from Jai Shankar Warrier. (Using the name Jai_Choorakkot, Jai is a familiar commenter on this and other blogs). I was one of those three. Jai suggested ... well, let me quote him:

Could you please consider allowing and doing a guest post on each other's blogs on this issue we are faced with, in the wake of the BOM attacks. It just seems to me it will send a terrific message that there are fundamental issues on which different people are quite united. There may be many reasoned arguments why this is not a good idea, but I cant help thinking if we cross that bridge onto thinking of a few reasons why it *is*.

The upshot of Jai's suggestion was that I invited one of the other bloggers to write me 750 words (and I quote again) "on specific steps we can individually take in the wake of last week's atrocity. I think a lot of us are searching for answers to exactly that: what do we do, what can I do? Not what the government should do, but each of us."

In response to that invitation, I just received the essay below from that blogger, Nitin Pai of The Acorn.

This is, I believe, the first time I've carried a guest post here. I'm honoured to offer it to you.

Thank you Jai, and thank you Nitin.


A common bank of votes and notes
Nitin Pai, by invitation

Since those Pakistani terrorists attacked Mumbai in the last week of November, I received innumerable emails and phone calls from nice people expressing righteous anger against two targets: the incorrigible Pakistan and our own arrogant, self-serving and incompetent politicians. Shouldn't we just bomb that place Muridke, where the ISI trains jihadis? Shouldn't we punish politicians and bureaucrats who failed to prevent these attacks from happening? It was difficult to reason with them: no, we can't just bomb Muridke, because, you know, that would start a war with a wretched, broken country that has nothing to lose. And besides, that's exactly what the Pakistani military-jihadi complex wants us to do. Now, I didn't think that I would have to defend myself against the charge of being a "dove". But let that be for now.

What about our politicians and our security agencies? Shouldn't they be punished for ignoring the terrorist threat until it was too late? Sure. But first, let's ask when was it that we gave them a credible signal that we think this was important. And let's ask ourselves why it should be surprising that our intelligence and security apparatus failed to prevent a sophisticated amphibious assault mounted by both the might of a powerful intelligence agency and a well-organised organised crime network.

South Mumbai is one of India's richest constituencies. It also has the lowest voter turnouts. The Maharashtra state government routinely fails to protect its citizens from the ravages of the monsoon. Mumbai didn't complain. The Maharashtra government failed to put uppity political goondas in their place. Mumbai didn't complain. The state government shelved plans to invest Rs 2000 billion to modernise the city. Mumbai didn't complain. Plans to transform it into an international financial centre disappeared into another black hole. Mumbai didn't complain. The good citizens of India in general, and Mumbai in particular had seceded from the nation---choosing to provide for themselves the basic public goods that the government ought to have.

It is unreasonable to expect competent policemen and intelligence agencies when the public works, healthcare, education and environment departments are characterised by non-performance, corruption and worse. Unless the overall quality of governance improves, one cannot expect India to battle terrorism and other lesser threats to human security. And you can't expect law enforcement to comply to the civilised norms we expect. In this context, it is just as unreasonable to expect the Indian state to be effective against terrorism as it is to expect it to show regard for human rights of suspects. The upshot is that overall governance must improve. How?

By voting. By giving money, legitimately, to politicians to support their election campaigns. And by holding them to account. I'm stopped at this point by people who say it won't work, and we need to do something "stronger" to change politics. I find this amazing. Because despite being one of the simplest instruments available to Indians, it is dismissed as being ineffective by people who have not even tried it. If the vote is empowering the historically downtrodden segments of the Indian population, won't it empower the middle class too? No, it's not a quick fix, but our politicians are a smart lot---they are bound to notice a bank of votes and notes when they see one.

It doesn't matter if the choice on the ballot is between a criminal and a person who has broken the law, between a former and current member of the same party, between a candidate of this party or that. Voting is the most credible signal we can send to our politicians---both to fix the drains and to secure us from terrorists. It's time we send it loud and clear, above all the noise we make.


Anonymous said...

Very good is just not often enough

Anonymous said...

Good post....But I don't quite agree with the the last part "It doesn't matter if the choice on the ballot is between a criminal and a person who has broken the law" . For better sensitivity to problems and better governance we need better people doing the job. Can you suggest some way which combined together with exercising the right to vote can give us that sensitivity as well as better governance?

Anonymous said...

Nice article. Before expect help from someone else, I think we should first do what is in our hands, Vote. The steps suggested in this article should be our 'first step' in the much needed journey of thousand miles.

Anonymous said...

Voting, between the criminal and a person who has broken the law will slowly mold the polity, without shocking the system. It will take longer, but will preserve India's democratic system which has been in place since independence.


Anonymous said...

Telling ppl to vote is a nice suggestion. But whom do you wish to vote for :
1) UPA - With its inability to make a quick decision (Refer to duration taken for Deshmukh's replacement, inability to project Dixit as CM candidate, and the obvious length to decide on Antulay)
2) NDA - With BJP in its lead, which has portrayed a strong racist approach when it comes to dealing with religion
3) Third Front - Fragmented regionally, voting for them will be a one step closer to national disintegration
All three have ruled in the past two decades and they are still around still with the same characteristics when they were voted out. Voting is good idea, unfortunately we do not have any other practical options

Hrishi said...

Agree that voting is one of the ways to bring about a change.

Question is, whom to vote? Every politician is just as corrupt as the next one.

And if we attempt to even do the exercise of finding the right candidate, where do we get the information from? The media? bah!

Anonymous said...

Jeez thanks Nitin and Dilip.

Apart from voting, "active citizenship" is something I have seen, albeit described in different words, across these blogs.

Maybe one example is using RTI rather than a quick-fix bribe.

Maybe another is to NOT fall for tactics like the ones Antulay employed recently.... imagine a wave of protest from the votebank he signalled to...

or from the votebank signalled to by the BJP guys lining up behind Sadhvi.

These will happen and much faster, if we start trusting-but-expecting-more from the designated limbs of the state. I think Dilp's "trust but verify" dictum is to be first applied to our own authorities.

Its actually tough to think positive steps to take, so used am I to carping abt negatives. Dilip, can you please take the lead in suggesting something.


Dilip D'Souza said...

Question is, whom to vote? Every politician is just as corrupt as the next one.

Indeed. Which is simultaneously a sign of the years of indifference on all our parts to the democratic system, and a reminder that keeping democracy and freedom alive is hard work.

Bhopale said...

Rule No. 49(O) in the Conduct of Election Rules 1961 says:
"Elector deciding not to vote. - If an elector, after his electoral roll number has been duly entered in the register of voters in Form 17 A and has put his signature or thumb impression thereon as required under sub-rule (1) of rule 49L, decided not to record his vote, a remark to this effect shall be made against the said entry in Form 17A by the presiding officer, and the signature or thumb impression of the elector shall be obtained against such remark."

In other words, a voter can go to the polling station and tell the presiding officer that s/he does not wish to cast her/his vote. The presiding officer will make a remark that the voter does not wish to vote and take the voter’s signature against his/her name in the register of voters (Form 17A). At the end of the day, the presiding officer will, in totaling the number of votes cast, also include the number of electors who refused to cast their vote. By doing so, voters make it clear to all political parties that they are not satisfied with the kind of candidates put up by them. Though they have done their duty as citizens by going to the polling station, they have not found anyone on the ballot paper who deserves their vote. This is the Protest Vote.If large numbers of citizens exercise their franchise in this manner, political parties will be forced to be far more careful in ensuring they do not nominate crooks and criminals or incompetents as their candidates next time round.

Anonymous said...


Perhaps the same energy can be directed positively, by voting for the best of the existing alternatives. There is no perfection in this world.

Bhopale said...

Yes Nitin, provided 'the best of the existing alternatives' is remotely acceptable.

Contrary to your position "It doesn't matter if the choice on the ballot is between a criminal and a person who has broken the law", I think that among the reasons for poor voter turnout in the cities, particularly of the middle and upper classes, is the complaint that they have no real choice considering the poor quality of candidates. If a significant number of voters practise their franchise as per this Rule 49(O), instead of treating the polling day as another holiday, then to quote you "our politicians are a smart lot - they are bound to notice a bank of votes and notes when they see one."

Dilip D'Souza said...

Re: the Rule 49-O suggestion.

The whole thing is, let's be blunt, nonsense. I wish more of us understood it that way to start with. But I can't do better than to direct you to Chander Uday Singh here.

Anonymous said...

The best way to make some of these politicians corrupt-free is to have the recall option after a specific period of time after elections. Can the influential bloggers work with influential journalists to get this option incorporated into our election laws?

Anonymous said...


Can some of us take a lead and be the better candidates that the rest of us can vote for?

anybody know what happened with Bharat Punarnirmaan Dal? and what happened with the Lead India winner Mr.Mishra.

But I can understand the frustration...

We had rotten roads in our locality for the past several yrs.. now a local corporator has taken up residence, and he has, and thereby we have, smooth newly laid roads. We're hoping he has a water problem at his house too.

Will it matter to us now, if hes a worse crook than the other guys? maybe 3x the cost of the road has been "diverted"... but I doubt the majority will have any problem with that.

By keeping even basic utilities scarce, our system seems to have dis-empowered our ability to check on his basic integrity.

Anonymous said...

The rot is to deep and wide and is almost impossible to cure.

A Second Republic in the answer.

The First Republic successfully introduced us to plural democracy. Whether it is a genuine democracy is a matter of debate but no one can deny its plural nature....sometimes taking curious Antulay like turns.

We need a Second Replublic to make our democracy as it was intended to be.


Bhopale said...

Jai_Choorakkot, Will you get better resume than that of our present Prime Minister? Does that make him a good Prime Minister? Another interestign example is of Uma Bharati. Keep aside her bitter words, histeria, ultra ideology for a minute and you will find a common person thrown into the cess pool of Indian politics. She was the Chief Minister of MP for avery breif period, and during that period it was impossible to get ANYTHING done by the government. You know why? She refused to give any cut money! The babus, contractors, sundry officials stopped working, and everything grounded to a halt! The Hubli case came as a blessing and there was lot of string pulling in the back ground which made sure she did not return to power. Though much mellowed down after being chucked out from "The party with a difference" for raising objections with power broking (in not proper way, agreed), she has been unable to stoop low enough to procure funds to keep her party floating. She is destined to the garbage dump of history

Mr. D'souza, quoting from the article you pointed out, Mr Kabadi says EVM will have a button 'None of the above'. Great! Mr. Chander Uday Singh on the other hand says "Importantly, there is nothing whatsoever in the Act or Rules to suggest that if electors either individually or collectively decline to cast their votes and get this fact recorded under Rule 49-O, then this would have any effect whatsoever on the election". Any idea what exactly is the difference between the existing Rule 49-O and the "Coming Soon" button, pending before Election Commission since December, 2001?

PaiN said...

Anonymous (RR),

And just why do we think that we will care any more about the Second Republic than about the First?

You don't really need all the constitutional bells and whistles to have basic, effective governance.

PaiN said...

That's me, btw


Anonymous said...

@ Nitin : A change in the aspect of the republic may be something that India needs right now. I have written about why India needs a Presidential democracy now, in my blog.
First, it can help in new leaders, because it will be upto the people to decide who rules, instead of political parties.
Second, there is better accountability, since the chain of leadership is definite.
Third, it can bring a stable government where there is no need to run for a vote of confidence every time a major decision has to be made.
Fourth, the opposition can be more effective than staging walkouts, since in a parliamentary democracy, the opposition has technically no way to hinder a bill from becoming a law.
And finally, the government at the center will have to have a national appeal to win majority, instead of tailor managing some votebanks. Lesser divisive and regional politics.
And no, I am not RR, though I do agree with him to bring a second republic (Though again it is an abstract comment like a call to vote).

Anonymous said...

Nitin advocates voting for the best of existing alternatives
For him, the NDA may be the best of the existing alternatives but for me as a muslim voting for a BJP led alliance is out of the question. That leaves me with just the UPA

Anonymous said...

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I am a first time visitor of your blog.

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About this article.
The whole article gives us wonderful insight.

Anonymous said...

Regarding rule no 49 (O)

Anonymous said...

What a completely bogus article.

And Dileep, your response "keeping democracy and freedom alive is hard work", is even more hollow.

I'll give you an example from my part of the world, this side of the pacific. I live in a small town of some 20,000 people. My neighbor is the local real-estate agent, has been for some 10+ years. Knows everybody, loves the town. One day she said, I'll run for mayor. We said, yeah why not. She had some bright ideas, maybe she could make it happen. She filed her papers. We went to local town hall meetings. She presented her case. The present mayor, not a bad bloke btw, presented his ideas. Audience mulled it over. Then voted. She won. Now she's the mayor & has made the zoning changes that are important in this part of the planet, like keeping the farms a minimum distance away from the houses so the whiffs of the cowdung don't spoil your evening party.
Thing is, it was not particularly hard work to keep democracy functioning. There were no thugs or goons involved. No pamphleteering, no yelling & screaming, quite boring actually. She is not some multimillionaire, has a net worth of some quarter million at best. Lives modestly, drives station wagon.

And in case you think this is just local politics, even at the state level there isn't that much difference. Both the senator who represents us & the congressman regularly email us. We write them back. We talk to them on the phone. They are both literate people, one UG, one PG, from the local university. They come to the uni's & talk to the students, present their case. Its all very boring & blah, see. Its not some mega gigantic soap opera like back home in India where my local MLA is a known murderer ( has actually, literally, committed a murder, not some "alleged" murderer ), the guy who ran opposite him was another thug, both hired goons, painted the town walls with their filthy mugs, broadcast loud speeches all day long, bought off people with saris & biryani, and won the election after considerable violence & cost to taxpayer. Neither kept their promise and the taxpayer is being swindled to this day with no recourse.

Voting for the best alternative will solve any of this?! Not even in your dreams mate. I don't have a solution to your problem, but don't pretend that you do.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Voting for the best alternative will solve any of this?! Not even in your dreams mate. I don't have a solution to your problem, but don't pretend that you do.

Faced with a choice between, on the one hand, waiting for some miraculous change to happen or a messiah to appear or simply bemoaning our state, and on the other, using the tools I have available to me -- I know what I would plump for, every time.

Anonymous said...

@ The last Anonymous commenter & Dilip : The solution to Anonymous comment is obvious and is the same I stated earlier. In India, if a person chose to contest an election, s/he will find it difficult to form a government or be in a position of power without outside help, because it is not the people who directly elect their leader, but it is the representatives.
When u look at a Mayoral election, u don't need a messiah or a God to come up, just an everyday human being can come up and get work done, if ppl are not happy with the current set of choices. Provided the system allows for it. In India, it doesn't, but in US it does.

Anonymous said...

The general greviance is--'But whom do you wish to vote for :'

---Well either choose the one's available indeginiously for the present or wait for the

Anonymous said...

What are the options?
1. Vote for someone
2. Protest Vote
3. Do nothing.
Its easy to keep complaining, why not pick something and go with it instead of looking for someone to put the blame on. If you have been picking option 3 and plan to continue with more of the same, then there is no more reason to read and write at these blogs.. Just go back to your safe world and watch some daily soaps.

Strwbrry_Fields said...

Nice article. I think people forget that our government is a cancer that we've allowed to grow for the past 61 years. Voting in one election will not undo our past, but everyone must realize that there are no short term solutions here. You have to be in for the long haul.. Slowly but surely as awareness grows and people start becoming more involved in the political process (and by this I mean just basic civic awareness - like not falling those rule 49-O forwards), there will be a change for the better.

Anonymous said...

An article on the state of Indian democracy that is simultaneously funny and saddening, by TVR Shenoy

Anonymous said...

Jesus was a bastard.Or he was a myth created by paul and a declining roman empire.

You should be ashamed of your christist name D'Souza.You claim to fight for justice.

Do you have the honesty to give up the sign of slavery-your name D'Souza.

I would then be ready to accept your pretensions.

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

Ah, the land of the free!
You have the right to free speech as long as you speak English.