The news papers carried this morning a fervent appeal by the newly appointed Chief Election Commissioner urging the Bihari youth to vote in great numbers. The item evoked my interest so I wanted to know more. I am normally done with four newspapers in close to two minutes. If my reading glasses are at hand well and good, if they are not, I make the newspaper adjust to my myopia. But I don’t miss very much. Glasses or no glasses, I manage to get the flavor and I thank God for giving me that day, my daily fix of sleaze and scandal, high-minded rhetoric and promises galore, privileged intimation of forthcoming political defections or new alliances in the making. Sometimes I find my name figuring in there. Seasonally, for the last couple of years the odds of my being appointed to some post or the other has been discussed. Then I reach out for my glasses. I like to be enlightened on these matters. Otherwise two minutes is all that I can spare. But today I made an exception. For a public cause, I called to the aid of my failing eyesight my pair of reading glasses.
Why have the youth of Bihar voluntarily renounced their right to vote? By not exercising their right to vote are they making a subtle political statement? And thinking of the their alienation and withdrawal the martyr’s memorial, just a few hundred meters away from where I live, floated before my mind’s eye! The statues of the young students frozen in their stance –marching into a hail of bullets yet holding the tricolor aloft- cast derision on death and mock the might of the empire over which the sun never set. They paid for with their lives to secure for us our independence and the right to vote. Would they consider sitting somewhere in the heaven, wearing their halo of martyrdom around them, their sacrifice worth it? Was the hard fought right to self-determination worth the price after all?
I wondered if this abstention is due to the fact there is an absence of worthwhile opportunities for raising their political awareness before they acquire the right to vote. The traditional modes of participation like student union elections are largely nonexistent. Student politics has always mirrored the concerns and preoccupation of national politics and is a report of what is happening in the broader society. For the youth it is a period of apprenticeship in the culture of parliamentary democracy, a recruiting ground for political cadres, and it incubates the future political leadership. The JP movement of 1974 is a case in point. One may not agree with either the agenda, or the philosophy behind the “Total revolution” but who can deny the reality of the ‘radical youth’ with their unabashed enthusiasm and utopianism or the momentousness of the occasion?
Or is it because the nature of politics today offers no scope for romantic idealism to the youth? What is there for them to be passionate about? There are no radically different visions of society on offer-visions which can captivate their imagination or inspire hope. All the parties dish out the same trite agenda whose similarity and repetitiveness emit a stale odour which you can catch from miles away. Nor for that matter the farcical change of the hearts and minds which compels large scale migration of members from one political club to the other holds their interest. The youth know they would be better occupied following the fortunes of their favourite sports stars –their movement from Milan AC to Real Madrid or from Kolkata Knight Riders to Chennai Super kings.
Arthur Miller had once observed that our political life, thanks to 24/7 TV is now “profoundly governed by the modes of theatre, from tragedy to vaudeville to farce.” The television is both a powerful ally and a useful tool through which the politicians try to project themselves as characters that they are not. In the live telecast of the proceedings of the houses representatives appear to have very few stakes in what goes on in the house. At their most radical, they can only throw a couple of chairs taking care not to cause hurt to their assumed adversaries or get hurt themselves. Even as a spectacle it comes out a loser in terms of audience preference for programmes like WWF.
But even if the youth somehow overcome their aversion there are not very many of them left to vote. A very significant section of them has been forced to become absentee voters out of dire necessity. They have joined the exodus to Delhi, to Poona, to Bangalore or wherever they see opportunity for decent education. And those not endowed with wealth or work are similarly forced to migrate in search of livelihood.
I realized that I had only questions, no answers, only hypotheses and speculations no hard theories. Obviously, I could not get under the skin of the young generation, I could not think like them. But I tried to make an effort of imagination, a nimble leap across the years. What would I be doing, say, if I were eighteen today? Would I listen to the elderly rubbish and make a beeline to the nearest voting booth? In the absence of ideology and idealism, faced to choose between hedonism and nihilism where would I be standing. I am ashamed to admit that I found myself merging into the character of that deeply connected youth in that interesting commercial, in spiritual communion with his mobile, knocking down kids and flower vases, ready to fall off malls. In that state of supreme connect, who would care for the vote?