Election Day

Dear Mummy,

It is May 6th. It seems yesterday when I went out to vote with you on Oct 13 for the Parvati Vidhan Sabha and today I got a chance to vote for Local and Parliamentary elections in London. Unlike the experience of pressing the button on an Electronic Voting Machine (EVM), this vote was cast the old fashioned way using a small pencil tied to a string to mark a cross on two voting slips, one for Member of Parliament and three for local councilors.

My earliest memories of exercising the franchise are from December 1984. We had purchased our first black and white Cathode Ray Tube Television set. Indira Gandhi’s mourning was covered in extensive detail by Doordarshan following her brutal assassination. I am sure you too remember that long walk home from Rahul Talkies after our PMT bus got stopped by rioters mourners on Oct 31st. Indian National Congress swept the nation with V.N. Gadgil winning the Pune seat. But you chose to vote for Mohan Dharia expecting him to make a good Member of Parliament. Excellent choice it was. No longer in active politics, the environmentalist continues to be actively involved with Vanrai at the age of 85.

I was very surprised to find that despite Indian nationality, I am eligible to vote in UK and have exercised my franchise since 2002. India is a part of Commonwealth. As per local laws, as a Commonwealth resident in England, I can not only vote but also contest in these elections.

‘A Suitable Boy’ is a thick novel by Vikram Seth describing post partition India. Amongst several other sub plots, it also discusses the first general elections in the imaginary state of Purva Pradesh. Media reports that Vikram Seth is now working on the sequel ‘A Suitable Girl’ about contemporary India. In his latest book ‘Two Lives’ he narrates the lives of his great-uncle married to his German Jew wife who lived in Hendon, North London. Vikram’s mother Leila Seth, the first woman judge in Delhi High Court, encouraged him to take up this project. Some of the characters in ‘A Suitable Boy’ are loosely based on his family members. Vikram Seth said that, in his “jump sequel”, Lata (who married a suitable boy in first book) would be an old woman searching for a wife for her grandson. Taking into account that he bases his characters on family members, the vast Indian diaspora that represents contemporary India and his knowledge of life in UK – I am making a bold plot suggestion to you. How about basing Lata’s daughter on his mother? She could be an active lawyer in India who moves to UK after marriage and continues her practise. She later joins politics after a few years as a social activist to become a Member of Parliament while retaining her Indian Passport. She then returns to India and continues the social cause getting elected to Rajya Sabha. Bad fiction you may say but read through for some decent facts. Laxmi Mittal is the richest man in England who retains his Indian nationality. Gandhi practised his law and politics in South Africa before returning to India. And finally the economist Manmohan Singh who failed to win a Lok Sabha seat in contemporary India but as an honourable member of Rajya Sabha, serves as Prime Minister of India.

Well I never told you but your choice to vote for a candidate of Janta Party during the huge sympathy wave has influenced my political views. I like ‘not voting for a specific party’ despite the political scene. Instead like to be a floating voter who simply votes for the best candidate. In any case a voter does not choose the Prime Minister in a multiparty parliamentary democracy. Prime Minister is the leader of the majority party (or coalition) and the Cabinet is formed from the elected MPs. I do not have a vote in a Presidential democracy like USA where people directly elect their commander-in-chief. The POTUS then nominates Secretary of State among others, none of these elected by people. On the other hand, the Foreign Minister of India is either directly or indirectly elected by people and thus the entire cabinet of ministers. Thus the cabinet will be formed from the MPs that people choose to serve their constituency well.

The voting hours are over and the exit polls indicate a hung parliament. I am in favour of a hung parliament and would like to see multiple parties working only on the common program for the next year or two. Unlike India, where a single party has failed to win majority since that Dec 1984 elections, UK has enjoyed a clear mandate for one party. The developing situation is unnerving for most but I would like to see more of this across the globe. A single vote does not make much difference. With core voters always voting firmly for two major parties, the only choice nationally is party A or B. The emergence of a third party gives a chance to voters to be more imaginative. Indian electorate with serious illiteracy and political apathy continues to get the end result quite alright. Soon after the demolition of the disputed site, BJP was campaigning “Aaj Paanch Pradesh, Kal Sara Desh” but voters rejected the call. But in 1999, Vajpayee Government was returned to power with a strong mandate after failing the confidence vote narrowly.The “India Shining” campaign did not succeed in 2004 but Manmohan Singh, who is anything but media savvy, managed to become the first Prime Minister after Nehru to return to power after a full term. So if UK voters choose a hung parliament, it is not indecision but a mandate for the three parties to work closely in the near term.

Above image by the cartoonist Peter Brookes was published in The Times of London on the day these elections were declared. A functioning parliamentary democracy allows different people to serve as PM in the same term. When Rajiv Gandhi was rejected by the Indian electorate but no one was given a strong preference, Chandra Shekhar took over from V.P. Singh in the same term. In different circumstances Gordon Brown took over from Tony Blair without a fresh mandate. Three party leaders have tried their very best to set themselves up as future Prime Minister in three live televised debates. It is possible, a very slim chance though, that a fourth person becomes Prime Minister as a consensus candidate when two of the three parties agree to form a coalition.

By the time you read this, the outcome will be known. So let me simply say, “Thank you, Mummy” for your usual patience.

Lovingly yours,

मिलिंद

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