It has always been observed that rural areas vote more than the urban places. Are the rural people more aware about their voting rights or they need the politicians more than the others do? It’s the latter. Rural India signifies the poor for whom there are welfare schemes. It’s the lawmakers who formulate the schemes and are responsible for implementation. In rural India, people still vote on the basis of personal gains. Who got what by voting someone! That’s why they distribute blankets, yarn and even cash on the eve of the voting day. Election outcomes are still dependent on such factors rather than what development took place in a constituency in five years. The rural Indian voters are way to go in deciding their votes on the basis of GDP growth, per capita income, foreign policy and other relevant factors.
The Meghalaya government was ecstatic over its ‘success’ in the defiance of a boycott call by voters in the backward region of Garo Hills. The region, which observes bandh at the drop of a hat, paid no heed to calls from the dreaded Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA) and all leading pressure groups to remain indoors on the voting day. The turnout of over 67 per cent is considered high compared to 79 per cent in 2009 in the elections to the Garo Hills Autonomous District Council (GHADC), if the boycott call is taken into account. Although the government claims that people are fed up of the bandh culture and hence they came out in large numbers, the actual reason is different.
Firstly, voting is a chance that comes once in five years. People do not want to lose that chance of exercising their right. During bandhs on ordinary days, people remain indoors as they do not have to lose much. For government employees it’s a paid holiday while daily wage labourers and traders lose one day’s income. This loss is no comparable with losing the chance of vote. So it is the self interest that drives the decision of people during bandh calls. Had there been a bandh on another day on the same issue, the people of Garo Hills might have reacted differently. So the overwhelming voting does not mean that the Garo Hills people want non-tribals to participate in the GHADC polls. It does not mean to the contrary either. To end the bandh culture, the government needs to enhance economic activities so that people really feel the pinch of such bandhs. Once they feel it’s harmful, and not beneficial – as the government employees think – there will be hustle and bustle on the streets even during the bandh called by the most influential organisation.
(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on October 16, 2015)