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Reflections on tryst with democracy

- Personal to national, voting changes hues

They know the names of their leaders but their leaders don’t know them. Yet, as the multitude begins to vote in the Northeast, their picture — small or big, rich or poor, filled with hope or despair — of where the country is headed is clear.

In the CPM’s only standing bastion, Uma Biswas, 34, a homemaker and mother of three children who works as a domestic help, had her instructions: “Our panchayat says we should always turn up to vote for the CPM.” And she did.

Others like Chandan Shil, 29, a barber in the Bardowali area of Agartala town said he had cast his vote today in his ancestral village Pandavpur, 15km south of Agartala. “I vote because my vote gets me things. I have got a bank loan and my brother who is a graduate has been promised a government job. As for national politics, well, that’s too big a thing to concern me. Just keep the poverty alleviation programmes like NREGA going.”

Unlike them though, Ramesh Kumar Agarwal, who cast his vote in the Upper Assam town of Jorhat, has his own national agenda. “The past 10 years have been dreadful. We need leaders who will put the country first. Our members of Parliament behave like goons and corruption is happening at all levels of governance.” At this rate, he says, India will take another 50 years to become a developed country. “This, despite the huge human resource pool we have.”

Thirty-year-old Nilam Kakoty of Sivasagar is convinced that the time has come to deal harshly with the people we elect election after election. “It is about time that a law is enacted to make our parliamentarians behave in Parliament,” he says.

While agreeing with Agarwal that India at this rate will take decades to become a developed nation, Kakoty does have a good word for recent governments: “Decentralisation has helped. The people of the country at the grassroots are now more empowered.”

Not that he is willing to spare the voter as an all-innocent victim of politicians and an unaccommodating political system. “We have to take responsibility for our neighbourhood, for example. We must make sure our environment is kept hygienic,” he says, referring to the Indian’s lack of civic sense.

Not everybody agrees with what seems to be the general demand among people. “The demand for smaller states, as of now, should not be considered. We need development, infrastructure and jobs for educated unemployed youths instead,” says Jojrang K. Sangma, 42, a Garo businessman from Tura in Meghalaya, as the demand for a separate Garoland gains momentum. Tura votes on April 9. Sangma’s solution to the country’s problems is “good elected leaders with a vision, conscious voters, political will-power to address economic issues, acceptable policies for development and thrust in the education sector.”