India Insight

The blue blot on my middle finger

April 30, 2009

Three hours of running from pillars holding up tin sheets to police posts, which provided security cover to shacks that had cropped up as polling booths, made me realise how frustrating the whole process is when the world’s largest democracy goes to vote.

It’s been more than two years since I moved to Mumbai and, frankly, voting was never top of my family’s agenda.

But, it all changed post the November 26, 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. Although we skipped the candles and the drama outside the Gateway of India near the Taj, which saw a protracted gun battle between armed militants and Indian security forces, one cannot deny the impact the attacks had on our collective conscience.

My wife said we cannot just sit back and accept whatever that happened as part of the new reality – terror can strike anywhere, anytime.

For her, it was the “jaagore” moment. For me, after doing my bit of reporting and producing news on India and South Asia for around 10 years, including an overnight vigil outside the Taj Mahal hotel till the miltants were finally eliminated, it was more like “we’ll see.”

My wife said we need to register our names and, if nothing else, at least vote in the elections. As a citizen in a what many call a dysfunctional democracy, she felt that’s the least one can do. For me, that meant “work”. I realised my cynicism will be put to the ultimate test.

This time around, my wife was willing to do all the work. Hail Activism!

She logged on to jaagore.com, registered our names, kept herself constantly updated on the progress of our application and had become quite an expert on voters’ rights, at times embarrassing me with her level of awareness.

But, there’s only as much jaagore could do. We were first time voters in Mumbai and things unravelled.

The Electoral Registrar’s Office said the onus was on us to prove that our names were not on any other voters’ lists. This came as a bit of a shock and surprise as the voter registration form also allowed us to submit that all other existing registrations, anywhere in India, may be cancelled.

We should have known that such a facility would have to be backed by technological support from a central database of eligible voters where the authroities could monitor and track migration of voters within the country. Maybe, Govt of India and the Election Commission will embrace technology before the next general elections, hopefully not before 2014. By then, we should have the option of voting via SMS or even over the Internet.

Back on dharti Mumbai, reality had bared its fangs.

The officer said we’ll need to file an affidavit, duly notarised, stating that “as far as we are aware, our names does not exist in any other voter list anywhere in India”. After spending a thousand rupees and half a day in a Mumbai court, amid lawyers in black coats that reminded me of my failed attempt to become a legal eagle, I did wonder – How will this “notary public” know if I’m telling the truth at all?

Till the last day, our names never showed up on the voters list. Neither did any of the parties or their candidates come to us seeking votes, as is the case in smaller towns like Thiruvananthapuram and Jhansi where we grew up.

On election day, April 30, 2009, we decided to give it a shot by going directly to the polling booth. We saw that a large open space in front of our house had been converted over the past one week into a polling station with multiple booths made of tin and plastic sheets and bamboo poles.

After spending about an hour there, we figured out our names were not in the voters list at that polling station. The kind policemen on duty directed us to another polling station which was about half a kilometre away. There too, the result was the same.

I realised even the party polling agents didn’t have a comprehensive list. Trust me, if even one of them had helped me, I would’ve voted for their party candidate. I knew there was a voter helpline that was advertised. But, you can call it only from an MTNL line.

For us, it was a race against time. We’d left our two-year-old son sleeping at home, with our Man Friday keeping vigil, and the 5 PM deadline for polling to end was fast approaching. We scooted around in taxis to two more polling stations in Wadala area before finally zeroing in on one polling station, this time in a govt school near the Wadala Fire Station. I was all fired up.

As we stood in line waiting for our chance, we scanned the list of candidates put up outside the booth. The customary party symbols were all there – hand, elephant, lantern, bow and arrow etc etc. I felt awkward. The symbols were familiar, but we didn’t know any of the candidates.

For her part, my wife had already decided. But, I was not so sure. Some of the parties I’d voted for in the past did not even bother to field their candidates in my constituency. But the bigger trepidation was whether I’ll get to vote this time.

Once inside, we found the first trace of efficiency in three hours and the polling officer there promptly helped us with our registration numbers. After my wife voted, it was my turn and the same symbols started smiling invitingly from the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM). I realised it’s a marvellous piece of engineering and decided to cast my vote in favour of Rohan Gawru Tambe, an independent candidate. His symbol “pressure cooker” swung it for me.

I felt it was apt given that I was steaming in the sweltering heat and grime. It was indeed a pressure cooker situation as I managed to get the blot on my middle finger at 4.55 PM. I’d joined the august company of Bollywood A-listers and Mumbai industrialists who voted in the third stage of this mammoth electoral process, although early reports suggest the turnout in this bustling city of dreams was barely 40 percent. It has surprised some that all the activism post-26/11 did not translate into votes.

Columnist Vir Sanghvi summed up the disconnect quoting MJ Akbar who’d famously said in 1984 “Bombay has a chance to establish diplomatic relations with the rest of India”. Sanghvi said Mumbai failed then, and have failed yet again.

But, we were excited that we got the chance and had to scurry back since our child was waiting. On to our fourth taxi and I asked the driver if he voted. He said “vote se zyaada zaroori mera pet hai” which translates to something like ”my stomach is more important than the vote”.

I did suggest there were worthy candidates like my man, Tambe. But, the taxi driver’s priorities were clear. He couldn’t care less about who stood and who won. I realised he shared an apathy which was similar to mine, but his was fashioned by a need to survive. 

On our way back, we went past voters, some proud of their participation, others convinced of their candidates’ chances. It was indeed the dance of democracy.

Once we reached home, my wife showed me a notice on the bulletin board. There was a blood donation camp in our housing society. Wonder if I should have gone there instead?

Comments
19 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

Do the Bachchans realize what they are doing in the Pic. Sticking your middle fingure also mean “F_ _ K” You !Get real people. You cant be so ignorant.

Posted by Bidhu | Report as abusive
 

They all know that in India, that means FU..esp. in bollywood..

Posted by ti | Report as abusive
 

The gesture did seem a bit odd, coming from a family that is usually spotless when it comes to being politically correct.

 

Please, it is an innocent gesture. For us ordinary folk in India it doesn’t mean much. It is those who are ‘exposed’ to the Western morality who can understand these ‘finger signs’ and ‘gay signs’, etc. we don’t make any fashion/culture statements and we don’t appreciate those who do it. Though internet, TV and all the rest of the media crap are enforcing all kinds of nonsense on the Indian public, there is still some innocence remaining.

Posted by Koleth | Report as abusive
 

BidhuI did not know that until I entered USA. It was not an European gesture either.

 

Seriously? You think the Bachchans don’t know what they’re doing? Sigh.

Posted by Naresh V | Report as abusive
 

You should consider yourself lucky – it could have been a proxy vote easily!! Amir Khan showed some sense, Bachans have really messed up – they seem to be really having fun showing their middle finger!!

Posted by Santhosh | Report as abusive
 

Ok.. I just have to say this? What the heck are the bachchans thinking???I left India six years ago but seriously.. is showing middle fingers been that common in India nowadays that even bachchans.. the most respected bollywood family can raise middle fingers in full public in front of bunch of waiting journalists without any regard for indian manners and morals for general indian public? Now, this picture is going to go viral and every desi I know will see it.I really need an answer to this. Thanks!

Posted by Maulik Sheth | Report as abusive
 

It seems there’s more to this than just the “middle finger” that meets the eye.http://www.mid-day.com/news/2009/apr  /270409-Voting-Middle-Finger-Mumbai-new s-Elections.htmWhen you vote in this election, the poll officer will ink your middle finger instead of the index finger. Debashish Chakrabarty, chief electoral officer for Maharashtra, confirmed the change. “The Election Commission has introduced this change, as most parts of the state voted for municipal, zilla parishad and gram panchayat elections recently and most voters’ index fingers are already inked.”The Bachchans’ gesture does seem odd. But, one cannot stand in judgment as they were not the only ones happy to “show the finger”. http://www.bollywoodworld.ca/bwgallery/t humbnails-1733.htmlEven Adi Godrej proudly put his middle finger on display.One media house ran a campaign to “show the finger and rock the vote” http://www.expressindia.com/news/fullsto ry.php?newsid=29737BTW, amazed that the middle finger has taken the spotlight away from the essence of my blog.

 

you need to show your qulity,its show you are poor

Posted by colin athuraliya | Report as abusive
 

@It has surprised some that all the activism post-26/11 did not translate into votes.—Just 40% voting post 26/11.Is terror threat off the minds that they did not vote.OrTerror threat is on their mind due to possible bomb blast. I think latter could be the reason.@Middle fingerPerhaps they are showing that to the terrorists and their trainers.

Posted by rajeev | Report as abusive
 

How they dare to show their middle finger they are not showing the voting sign they just says f#%@ u all who are voting there must be some legal action against them

Posted by manna | Report as abusive
 

Manna, as I said earlier, Mid-Day carried a story on the new guidelines which meant, when you vote in this election, the poll officer will ink your middle finger instead of the index finger. Debashish Chakrabarty, chief electoral officer for Maharashtra, confirmed the change. “The Election Commission has introduced this change, as most parts of the state voted for municipal, zilla parishad and gram panchayat elections recently and most voters’ index fingers are already inked.”

 

Madhu, Rajeev, othersI agree with Rajeev. Why should this most famous bollywood family, get out and travel in Mumbai traffic and vote. Should they not have any respect for democracy, they wouldnt have gotten out of their homes. Even Ambanis had casted vote . Bachhans are encouraging lazy Indians to go out and vote. They did not forget the terrorists that inflicted carnage recently.@ of them were MPs, in case you forgot.AB has a blog site of his own I believe, dig it out if u have time and ask him. Comeback tell us his response.

 

Guys, the debate here is not about why the Bachchans are showing their middle finger, but that the voter registration process needs to be further simplified from the government’s end AND with a lower voter turnout in Mumbai than most other constituencies, Mumbaikars that did not vote DO NOT have a right to complain.I think it is absolutely shameful that even after all the registration drives and NGOs reaching out to citizens after the 26/11 siege we could not even cross the halfway mark. Why has the anger petered out? Couldn’t those who had long weekend getaways planned postpone them by a few hours?

Posted by Sakshi | Report as abusive
 

In some countries, people must make certain sacrifices in order to vote. In this case, having voted, a blue mark was placed on the middle finger as proof and to prevent voting twice. Elevate your minds a little and be happy that there is a slight (ever so slight) movement towards participation in the democratic process. In another 50 years we may see a truly democratic India. I won’t be around to see it, but my grandchildren may.

Posted by Phylli | Report as abusive
 

The fact that you voted is in itself praiseworthy. Your wife must be applauded for her efforts. It must have been a harrowing experience but you didn’t give up, although personally I feel you could do better with your reasons for voting a particular candidate. You may feel that you are just one person and one person’s vote hardly accounts for anything, but even a single vote matters. I think Jaagore has done a brilliant job. I know of many people who have been inspired by the jaagore advertisements. Change may come slowly but we mustn’t give up on our determination in effecting a positive change in our country. Cliched as it may sound, everything depends on the people. I honestly believe that there is much we can do.

Posted by Sravasti Datta | Report as abusive
 

Bachans are so illetrate or so arrogant to show that gesture to the media.I am sure they know the meaning and purpose fully.Shame on you Bachans.

Posted by Suresh | Report as abusive
 

its absolutely shameful..shameless and cheap..the bachans and aish have shown their class…they seem to enjoy showing the finger to the photogrpahers…they know too well being from such a dirty professsion what it means and now they are showing their dirty natures to evryone…children will see these pictures..its really irresponsible and low class…the khans have managed to show their hand in a more respectable way..there is no excuse…shame on them

Posted by sara | Report as abusive
 

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