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Mumbai let down all of us

Mumbai let down all of us

Author: Editorial
Publication: Free Press Journal
Date: May 5, 2009

So this is what they meant being engaged citizens! The abysmally low voting in Mumbai on Thursday belies the tall talk Mumbaikars had collectively indulged in following the 26/11 terrorist attack on the most prominent symbols of the metropolis. The traumatic events, it was said, had changed Mumbaikars forever. Now they were more aware of the national, state and local political scene and were determined to change it for the better. Indeed, in the wake of the three-daylong dance of death, televised live into every Indian home, quite a number of educated and successful professionals had come forward to participate in the democratic process. Which explained the rise of a brand new party and the decision of a well-established banking industry professional and a practising doctor to plunge into the electoral arena. While one welcomed this show of activism by the well-off classes in the hope that it would make a difference to the quality of our political life, one is afraid, the extremely low turn-out on Thursday has disappointed all lovers of democracy. Clearly, the chattering classes cannot bring themselves up to make a wee-bit of sacrifice for the sake of the greater cause, that is, Indian democracy.

Most shockingly, the poll percentage in Mumbai was lower than even the 47.5 registered in the 2004 election. Okay, the extra polling day holiday tempted the leisure class to go out of Mumbai for an extended week-end. If only these passive stakeholders in democracy realized that their vote could make a difference, that they were called upon to spare some time but only once in every five years, that through their vote they could elect the least bad among candidates on offer, the polling percentage would not have been so shamefully low.

Sorry to say, the middle and upper-classes have not done themselves proud by shirking their duty by the nation. The educated classes cannot complain if there is an increasing criminalization of politics, if money and muscle-power play a dominant role in the electoral process. For five years, you hear in well-appointed drawing rooms across urban India about the growing hold over our democratic system of the lumpen elements. And when the opportunity comes to correct that wrong, to try and check that downward slide, you give democracy a miss. Not done. By choosing to stay away from the polling booths, the South Mumbai-types have sought to opt out of the system, the very system they committed to improve, and change, if possible, after the horrendous 26/11 Mumbai attack.

Of course, one can condone the low turn-out in the far-flung rural parts of the country where the means of transportation are limited and no major bread-and butter issues are on the agenda of politicians. But in the case of Mumbai voters, there were no such excuses. Okay, there was oppressive heat and humidity. But those who wanted to take over the reins of the nation in their own hands in the wake of the Mumbai attack may like to explain why they played truant with Indian democracy on the most important day when their vote could have made a difference in choosing the next set of rulers. Mumbai has failed India.

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