Governance · Law · Politics · Public Policy

Myths of Voting: An Indian Saga

A myth is a story, a trend or an idea that a culture believes to be true. Myth is a word innate in Indian minds in the form of traditions, cultures and beliefs which is reflected in every walk of their life! In short, a common Indian man’s social, cultural, economical and even political life is encircled by mythologies. Myths in the political life of Indians are hard to digest.

Majority of Indians believe that they can only vote from their place of birth or of permanent residence. This is not true. One can register to vote at any place in India as long as he/she is an eligible voter. Eligibility can be explained as any Indian citizen of 18 years of age or older and an ordinary resident, who has been staying at the current address for at least 6 months and he/she has not registered elsewhere as a voter. People used to deem that they must stay at  a place for atleast 5 years to be considered as an ordinary resident.

Documents which can be used as proof, constitute the next set of political myths. Most of the voters believe that they don’t have ample documents to give as proof of residence to register as a voter even when they might have many. In fact, documents like house lease agreement, mobile or landline bills and driver’s license are all accepted as address proof credentials. It is not even necessary that the address proof document should bear the applicant’s name. It must contain the address of the place where the applicant is staying. Students can register from their hostels by submitting the obligatory details. Another important myth regarding voting is that the voter ID card is a fundamental requirement for voting. Voter ID is not the only form of identification that is accepted to identify the voter. PAN card, driving license, ration card, student’s ID card, passport etc are also time-honored as ID proof. The only stipulation is that the voter’s name should be there in the latest voter list of the constituency.

A common Indian always has the belief that registering to vote is a very complicated process. Few years back, this was true to an extent. However, now the scenario has changed to make the processes simple. Online revolution swept in all over the field of administration including this field too. Indian Voters mainly cast their votes in two breeds of elections, and those are Parliamentary and Assembly elections. We have to come out of this credence and should be more conscious that we need to use the right to vote for local body elections or Municipal elections as well.

The anecdotes of myth don’t finish here. There are numerous myths around political parties and elections in India. It is partly because Indians are passionate about politics and there is very little hard evidence on political behavior. One among them is that women cast their vote according to their husband’s political inclination. In India, like many other democracies, the levels of interest and involvement of women in politics are comparatively lower than that of men. When someone is less interested in something, there will be a tendency to go by somebody else’s advice. But with that, we cannot conclude that most of the women go by their husband’s choice and they are not an independent factor in politics. In many States, more women turn out to vote than men and there is a difference in levels of support for major political parties among men and women. For example, Congress has always received more votes from women than men.

In India, one of the major determinants of choice of candidate to vote for, is caste. Though this is an undeniable truth, it is not universal. So the statement that “Indians don’t cast their vote, they vote for their caste” can be viewed as another political myth. Caste is not the sole consideration of voting in spite of the fact that almost every political party in India takes caste as their trump card in elections. Voters in India are not blindfolded towards caste politics. The defeat of Congress in the 1977 election is an ardent example to show that Indians are politically sensitive. In India, voters do not have a simple option of voting along caste lines. There might be more than one candidate from a single caste or there may be none.

Since the last two elections, the increasing vote for one party or defeat of another is not explained by castes changing sides. Another perception is that Muslims vote heavily and en bloc. But researches show evidence for the turnout of Muslim voters that has actually been a little lower than that of Hindus since 1996. The perception that the Muslims vote, en bloc has an element of truth. It is not only the case of Muslims; any minority community tends to do so. But this practice is not prevalent at the national level. Also, it is an exaggeration to say that there is a unified Muslim vote in the country.

Young voters constitute a discrete political bloc with distinctive and self-determining political preferences and views. They are supposed to be the carriers of change and transformation. But in veracity, there is no such generational change in Indian politics. There is a general misconception that elections that witness high turnout lead to a loss for the ruling party. While voter turnouts have declined in many other democracies, in India, turnouts have either remained stable or have gone up. Indians have an intense attachment to politics and toward political parties. Unlike other countries, there has been a participatory upsurge for democracy in India.

India is the largest democracy in the world. It has faced critical challenges since independence but overcame those situations. Unlike our neighboring nations, India continued to be democratic. The voter turnout in India has a positive trend unlike other countries including European nations.  Myths can only be erased with the help of proper education and spreading awareness about the political scenario, et al. Those days are not far, when India will be  a politically literate country that can realize the word CHANGE.

About the Author

NikhilaNikhila P.P. is  a student of School of Legal Studies at Cochin University of Science and Technology, pursuing her five year integrated B.B.A., LL.B. (HONS) course. She is also pursuing Company Secretary course under ICSI. She is interested in participating in various seminars on law and has also presented papers in three seminars so far. Currently she is interning with the Model Governance Foundation.

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