By Dr Samhita Barooah
Elections have become the T-20 matches these days. Everyone is busy with balancing equations with religious, class, regional, ethnic, traditional lineages. Today our household voting practice started with the staff seeking leave from work to vote for the first time in life. One is 18 and the other 22, rushing home to cast their maiden votes. One friend went to his hometown in the 1st phase of voting. His ailing mother, caregiver wife and young daughters could not vote. Only one vote was registered. Another neighbour went home in Darrang to cast her vote. Voter information is defined by the symbols that they would cast their vote on. Who to vote is a big question for the Assam assembly elections!
People in this state have been voting for personalities more than the symbols that they represent. This is true for many leaders whose personalities have appealed to the voters more than their party affiliations. Assamese community is bothered more about behaviours, attitudes and humility of the leaders running for elections. It doesn’t really matter what is there in the manifestos. Whether the land is traded or the industries are privatised or the jobs are shrinking for common people within the commons. It really doesn’t matter.
Voting is a matter of the people in power. Power engulfing and power hoarding applies to Assam rather than power sharing. Political power is again a patriarchal passion which is centered around men and anybody whose identity doesn’t threaten men. Men are also struggling to fulfill those patriarchal power driven dreams. Working men are happy with hoirst using, gas, bank loans to start something on their own. Now an e-rikshaw driver had recently taken loan from bank and bought his own e-rikshaw to feed his recently migrated family from Sibsagar district to Guwahati city. He went missing for 2 days along with his brand new e-rikshaw after a week of driving it. He was found in the Guwahati outskirts drugged and without his e-rikshaw and clothes. His case was registered in the local police station but so far he has not found any justice. He was asked to pay bribes at different stages. When he approached media to cover his story, they said currently elections are more important than this kind of stories. So media priorities are also set! While struggling to get back his e-rikshaw he could not go to vote. His wife and children also could not go to vote. Many such migrant daily wage workers in the city could not go for voting. They are contributing towards the urban economy without their voting rights.
Students in university hostels are not motivated to go for voting as they have to go for self-quarantine and Covid testing if they go outside their campuses for anything. Beggars on the street still could not get their voter ID cards to go for voting. Most bedridden and corona affected voters eligible will be restricted from voting unless there are other options. Digital voting through mobile phones will be a new norm soon with the growing demand for mobile technology and physical distancing measures. It is crucial for voters to know the symbol of candidates.
If money, free education, scooty, bikes, laptops, food, houses, direct cash transfers, gas connections, Covid 19 vaccines and health security cards are exchanged for votes then such votes may not last long. Democratic election is a matter of diversity of strategies to resolve critical concerns. Today voting is limited to benefit provision rather than electing deserving leadership which need to be visionary rather than being opportunistic. But people are so easily pleased by industries, automobile economy and fast tags that they are in awe of the sugar coated superficiality.
Religion is another huge vote gatherer and divider. Politics played around religion is again highly problematic as it’s a very personal perspective. But when the particularity of any religious faith determines the educational syllabus, salaries of employees, positions of the 4th estate, job security and satisfaction measures, personal choices of music, food, attires, friendships, relationships and property usage then the political power structures gets repressive. Unless religion and money are separated from politics no election can sustain real democracy.
Decolonization of democratic practices is the need of the hour. People are confused with judgments of faith, language, culture, race, caste, tribe, class, physical features, gender, sexuality and many more layers of intersections. The aftermath of cultural hatred, disputes, communal polarity and extreme repulsion of opposing forces needs to be resolved through amity, empathy and acceptance of diversity. The sense of nationalism and sub-nationalism is a motivating factor but one needs to envision such feelings from the decolonized mindset.
So far Assamese identity has been seen as an assimilating identity of being accommodating, approachable and inclusive in accepting its diversity. But in the last decade, internal ageism, political competitiveness and leadership crisis in any forum of political assertion has colonized people. This colonization is linked to the class, caste and religious majoritarianism power of the neo conservative patriarchal nationalism of the idea of India. Earlier elections were fought on the grounds of conflicts, peace building, natural disasters, price rise, lack of development gimmicks and job security. This year even the Covid 19 pandemic cannot resolve the problems of hate. Decolonization needs to free people, not enslave them to money, loans, forced relationships, consumerism and the automobile economy with a few sporadic industries here and there. Democracy is a right towards freedom, equality and social justice but every year elections disrobes people from these and stifles them with sanctions and compliance reinforcements to prove their nationality consistently.
Decolonised democracy is still a far cry in Assam and elections are yet to bridge that gap.
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