Today was polling day in TamilNadu, for the State Legislative Assembly. A visiting NRI friend was transiting through Chennai yesterday and she asked me if I’d ever exercised my franchise. I realised that except for once in a Panchayat election, I’d never cast my vote. Of course, I have many excuses. I lost my Election Card when my wallet was stolen over 8yrs ago. I never bothered getting a duplicate. Again, excuses came tumbling down…if not states or countries, when I at least shift homes every 11 months, will I really make use of the Election Card, except maybe as a proof of ID? Is it really worth the hassle to get entangled in the government process to get the duplicate? And where should get it made from? Will it arrive before I shift? So, where do I vote? Does it make sense for me to vote? Am I in a position to make an informed choice that will ensure the civic improvement of the constituency I belong to? If not, how can I do that? Do I have a stake in the outcome of the elections? Should I?

I needed to transfer my gas connection. My neighbouring aunty and I would traipse down to the local gas agency almost everyday, in the hope that each day will bring me closer to the untangling of the mysterious process in which the booking approvals are done and finally be the proud consumer of LPG provided by Indane! The walks were long and interesting with aunty telling about the freebies given out by the campaigning parties. Day 1, she told me that everyone in the apratment had been given colour TVs. Every single one of them! Aunty even offered her set for me to watch the World Cup India-Pakistan match. (Finding it addictive, I’ve chosen to remain TVless for most of my adult life. The decision helped…only till I got my first laptop, and the internet…and voila! A new addiction was born!)

Day 2, ok…so it wasn’t part of the campaigning, but in an effort to keep kids in school, bicycles were given to students studying in the 9th, 10th and 12th standards. That, I think is a pretty cool initiative – one time investment, that makes a HUGE value add for the recepient. Transportation is quite an incentive for school going kids, with little or no pocket money to spend on bus fares. It’s also environmentally friendly, makes sure the kids get enough exercise, and has very little need for followup investment. I’m not sure if the drop out rates have been addressed because of this, or if this in any way addresses/provides relief to the root cause of dropping out of school, but it looked like a step in the right direction to me.

Day 3. My gas connection is still a dream. Aunty is still going strong about the freebies. The chances of us getting a cylinder soon may be dim, since the political parties are issuing free gas connections now. It seems my household help got her second cylinder under this ‘scheme’! Mmm…

It’s a few days and plenty of phonecalls later (to the higher ups in Indane) that I get my gas connection. But that sets me thinking (well, it doesn’t take a lot to set me thinking), why is it that I have to take half day leave from my organisation and run behind this agency for 10-15 days to get a basic necessity, when the whole thing can be settled in a day or 2? Is it because they are incompetent? Is it because they know no better? Is it because they are not accountable? Or they are spiteful? Or sadistic? Or legalistic? Or plain dumb?

Dissatisfied with the unnecessary hassle, I was even more rattled when I found out that for every single activity that involved the government, I needed to provide a notarised affidavit saying that I was on the up and up and the purpose for which I required the agency’s services. Doesn’t matter that I have a Passport and a PAN card (remember I lost the Election Card?), issued by the Governement of India…I needed to prove that I was a citizen of Tamil Nadu (doesn’t matter that I have a Rental Agreement and a gas connection!!), by paying Rs.150 for EVERY affidavit for every single service I availed! In the age of Software Exports and India asking for a Permanent Seat in the UN Security Council, is there no end to this bureaucracy??!?

Imagine my surprise, when i picked up the paper today to read of a political party in TamilNadu that stood for change and the involvement of youth and accountability in politics!  It was too good to be true! My curiosity propelled me to make some contact with the party and what a conversation that was! We talked for almost 80 minutes, on what education can do, on what merit can do, on what they would want to do. The frustration on not being given a chance, on losing to money power, on the uphill task of taking the road of integrity, of convincing people to sacrifice a little gain for the common and greater good of all. Can this be done…in the face of enormous corruption and callousness? In the face of selfishness and fear? A noted historian once said, “Helplessness induces hopelessness, and history attests that loss of hope and not loss of lives is what decides the issue of war.”

In this war againt bad governance, they think they can make a difference. And I hope they can…And some day take it forward to all the 234 assembly constituencies in Tamil Nadu. Along with them, I’m sure we all can. Let’s take heart in the words of one of my favourite poets:

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up
into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason
has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action—
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.