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April, 2014:

Future Writers

There has been a huge brouhaha over first-time voters in these elections, which gave me an idea: If people who have turned 18 or 19 recently can help write the country’s future, they can bloody well be counted upon to write this column too at least this week.

So I asked a first-time voter in my apartment complex to pen her thoughts on the whole experience leading to the elections and how things panned on the voting day. This is what she submitted:

‘Turning 18, which I did a year ago, was momentous, because, by law, I was an adult now. Something that, left to my dad and mom, I could never be one even when I am well into my 50s. I guess this is typical of most parents. Protective and extremely caring, except that after a certain age it is just painful intrusiveness.

Be that as it may, a few days after my 18th birthday, dad asked me to apply online for the voter ID card. I was told that I need not stand in long queues at smelly government offices waiting for some clerk to turn up from his never-ending lunch hour. Instead, thanks to the rapid computerization and e-governance set in motion, the whole process has been simplified for me to wait in my own house for even longer hours for my photograph to get uploaded into the relevant form.

Even as I was trying to upload my photo, dad came to me and gave a piece of helpful advice that I want to pass on to others: ‘Never try to access an Indian government internet site through a browser that is not Internet Explorer.’ There are absolutely no explanations for some things in life. The Indian officialdom’s fetish for the blighted Internet Explorer for one certainly. For another, Rani Mukerji’s choice of wig in Tara Rum Pum. It was a wig that the makers of Dracula would have rejected on the grounds that it was hideously scary. It has taken all these years for Adi to get off that mental image to marry Rani this week.

I think I am digressing. After I managed to upload my photo, it was a breeze from thereon. And my voter ID card reached me in just over a month, which may be a small record of sorts. Because we live in a country where there are States whose people have to wait for more than a month to even know whom they have voted for in the elections.

Once I got the voter ID card, I held it — a symbol of my being as an adult citizen of this country, a single sovereign metaphor for a larger Republic —- firmly and proudly for a few seconds, and after that forgot about it completely. I had to search for it desperately last week as the D-day for voting approached and I eventually found it in the place that nobody in the house ever gets near: Besides a copy of Midnight’s Children.

Last week, dad also asked me to firm up my knowledge on the Indian political system. Politics, I confess, is not the strongest suite of students like me. It doesn’t interest us much because even without any knowledge of it we can make it to the IITs, and using that engineering skill, to the IIMs and then become an investment banker in some distant land. Many of us, in general, don’t know what work people, who are not engineers or doctors, do in life. Also, we don’t know what happens inside a government office. And I suspect this to be the case with many who are employed there itself.

Anyway, as I began to learn about Indian political system this week, what was abundantly clear is people’s will enjoys total primacy, except on occasions when it can be dispensed with, which is always. And that is why we have a set up where people directly elect the MPs, who comprise the Lok Sabha, and the MPs in turn elect the Prime Minister who, of course, need not be elected by the people at all because there is Rajya Sabha, created for people who have no hope of winning even a Municipal election. At least that is what happened in the case of Manmohan Singh.

Overall, there is the Prime Minister, and under him is the council of Ministers, and there is the President, who is the titular head of the country and under him is the Vice-President who is vested with the Constitutional obligation of visiting various countries under fully-paid government’s expense.

It all sounded confusing. Reading about the parties even more so. And I told as much to dad. He told me, in a tone that parents always assume while talking to their children because they (parents) think they have understood life when in reality they are even more clueless than us, ‘remember democracy is never perfect. The choices it throws will always be a mix of good and bad. You smartness lies in picking the right one’.

As far as advices go, it was extremely clever in that it did not say anything at all though it sounds all grand and knowledgeable. When I am faced with a complex issue, I generally go to my best friend Shilpa, who is pretty good at evaluating people, not in the least because she has had five boyfriends so far. The day before the polls, we had an open chat for four hours that helped to clear our minds and make a firm choice, which was: Blue kurti and jeans. Yes, that is what we decided to go to the polling booth in.

As far as who we voted for, well, we are for honest leaders and an efficient system, which comes down, if not on venality then at least on those still using Internet Explorer.’