My home state of Karnataka and my adoptive country of America are both in the throes of elections (this year, and every other year for that matter). The periodic polling exercise is expected to convey to us, among other things, that democracy is alive and ticking. Whether the polls materially alter the life of the citizenry is something that has increasingly come to be doubted given the options before the electorate, with solicitation of votes going beyond healthy political differences into the unhealthy terrain of bigotry, divisiveness and intolerance.
Karl Marx, whose 200th birth anniversary was observed last week, sagely noted that the oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them. Lest it be construed that this was a communist put-down of the democratic spirit, a few years later his American contemporary Mark Twain remarked that “if voting made any difference they wouldn’t let us do it.” The journalist and social critic HL Mencken went further, characterising elections as “an advance auction sale of stolen goods.” The first-past-the-post system reportedly impelled Kennedy’s father to telegram him, “Dear Jack, Don’t buy a single vote more than is necessary. I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay for a landslide.”
But then, why should politics involve values at all? Now and for a long time, it has been broadly acknowledged that all politics is amoral. Elections in the US (and in India) of leaders of dubious integrity and dodgy rectitude suggest that voters have a greater tolerance for venality and malfeasance than previously known. Promise of draining the swamp is not something they particularly seem to hold the elected to; they appear to accept that politics itself is a swamp, and some of them live on the edge of the morass or may even be part of the big bog.
Perhaps that is why millions of people, from the poor to the middle class to the rich, still make a beeline to the voting booths to exercise their franchise, unmindful of the cynicism that caused someone to say that politics is the gentle art of getting votes from the poor and campaign funds from the rich, by promising to protect each from the other. Bhakts and Kambhakts, Sanghis and Congis, Deplorables and Desperados are all in it together, “choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.” As for those who sit out, we offer the wise words of Pericles: Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.
DISCLAIMER : This article is intended to bring a smile to your face. Any connection to events and characters in real life is coincidental.