Divya took her cup of coffee and looked around at the cafeteria. It has been a quiet day and she looked forward to an extended coffee break. She spotted Raghu sitting alone in a corner.
“Hey Raghu – what’s up?”
Raghu looked up, “Hi Divya – Long time no see. Just got off the phone with Rashi. She wants to pick some stuff for her school assignment. What have you been up to?”
“In between projects, so it’s been a bit easier on my schedule. I am able to spend a little more time with Anurag with his after-school work. If this is how class seven looks, I dread to think of class ten”, Divya shrugged as she settled into her chair.
Raghu and Divya have been in the same company for more than ten years and have grown through the ranks. They had worked together on many projects in the initial years and though they head different departments now they still had a good camaraderie. The warmth of their friendship was always punctuated by bare-knuckle conversations on various topics.
“So, who do you think will win?” Divya asked with the obvious reference to the upcoming elections.
“Like I care!” Raghu smiled.
“Are you even going to vote?” Divya asked very tentatively.
Raghu shrugged a No, “I may need to run some errands.”
“Oh! come on, Raghu. Voting is our civic duty. Be a citizen first and then a consumer. You can always pick up Rashi’s stuff at another time.”
“Divya… don’t get started. Not in the mood for a civics lecture. Perhaps the state wants that we be consumers first. It’s preferable that the citizen only shows up once in 5 years.”
“How can you be so self-indulgent? Are you not interested in our democracy?”
“Of course, I like it that we live in a democracy. I like it that lots of youngsters will be voting and posting inked-finger selfies. But I want nothing to do with the elections…” Raghu tapered off.
“Really? Just because we work in a multinational company doesn’t make us privileged and aliens to local issues. Wait till the drains overflow and the stink sets in – you will know where you live.”
“I know where I live. On the roads! Have you missed the traffic these days? And if the drains overflow, I am going to tweet to the municipal commissioner. Do you know there are apps for these things too? I don’t find happiness in politics – so please excuse my absence from the voting booth. I pay my taxes, that’s about how far I am willing to go”, Raghu sounded very categorical.
“That is being so isolated!”
“No, in fact I have a good reciprocal relationship with the government. We don’t care for each other”, Raghu smiled.
“Are you happy with everything going on around us? Don’t you think you should make your voice heard?” Divya couldn’t help getting deeper into the conversation.
“Maybe on the surface level the government will change. But at a deeper, structural level, nothing else will. What’s the point in voting when nothing really changes?”
“How can you be so sure that nothing will change?” Divya challenged.
“Divya, let me tell you a secret: if voting changed anything, voting would be illegal.” Raghu continued, “As I see it, money and power are intertwined. Status quo is all we are going to have. We have democracy and a welfare-capitalist economy. Whichever government comes into play, these are unlikely to change. Anyway, what do you want changed?”
“I want better roads, I want our farmers to have a better life, I want more jobs going around, I want our girls to be safe…”
Raghu interrupted, “Let me ask you something: How are you going to vote? I mean, what is the basis for your vote? Your regional identity? Caste?”
“Of course not! I will vote based on leadership. The leader who gives me confidence and hope through the manifesto.”
“Really? You are that gullible? Look at our choices! The leadership is not too different from each other. Manifestos are promises that don’t get fulfilled in the spirit. The political philosophies succumb to demographics and related statistics. It’s a flawed system. I am not even a statistical blip. A single vote can’t change the outcome, so I have no rational reason to vote.”
“Maybe so, Raghu. But what if everyone thinks that way? And we have a hard-earned privilege to vote.”
“Divya, you talked about girls being safe. Has any political party said anything about that? Do you realize that women are an important constituency and women as a force have the power to influence outcomes?”
Divya was fully aware that women’s right to vote was a given in India while women of other countries had to fight for their voting rights. But why women have not evolved as a force that could influence voting outcomes was a mystery to her.
“You know, I want a better place for Rashi, too. But I just don’t see the hope” Raghu continued. “It’s the people who are socially disadvantaged who hold the vote to a higher value. It’s these people that the political system pursues because they vote in hordes. Where are the women who make it a political virtue to talk about women as a constituency?”
There was an element of truth to what Raghu was saying, Divya thought, as she looked outside the glass windows that opened up to a concrete jungle of development. All the people who still arrive at the polls have a vested interest in influencing the outcome. Ballots have been taken over by the modern-day tribes. If the tribes don’t vote, they don’t matter to the political parties.
Was she voting to fulfil an obligation? Certainly not, she believed that a better society is built if everyone exercised a civic duty to vote. When fewer than 50 percent of the citizens show up at the polls, how can we expect a political system invested in workable solutions for the majority of our citizens?
“Hey,” Raghu interrupted Divya’s stream of thoughts. “Got to run, Divya. Speak to you soon.”
“OK, say hi to Rashi for me”, Divya called after Raghu.
Was it going to be a superficial change over the underbelly of sameness? Divya couldn’t disagree with Raghu, neither did she agree with him. She was at the intersection of hope and despair. The way she looked at it, Divya didn’t see a choice but to exercise her choice.