V is for voting

Editor’s note: I wrote this post on Thursday. On Friday, the day after the polls, allegations were being made that as many as 15% of voters were turned away from the polls. The Mumbai Mirror interviewed the election commission’s deputy director general. Read his response here.

When planning my posts, I had decided to write about V for vegetarians. Vegetarians are everywhere, and every menu adapts nonveg Western dishes for vegetarian customers. Most famously, McDonalds has the McAloo, a potato patty, which is the vegetarian version of a Big Mac.  Needless to say, being a vegetarian in India is quite easy.

But, as I write this post, today is election day in Mumbai. And, voting is a far more interesting topic than vegetarians. Most businesses have declared a holiday today to enable voters to go to the polls early. Sachin Tendulkar, Mumbai’s favorite son and cricket god, has returned from IPL matches in Dubai to vote and urged every Indian to join him.

The energy on the street this morning felt like a lazy Sunday. That’s what happens when you attend a yoga class at 7 am. No one else is awake yet. But, by 9:30, the energy had started to change. My class met for coffee at Starbucks. Of course, the topic turned to politics. When I asked for whom I would vote if I could, I dodged the question a bit saying that “all the choices suck.” Because, let’s face it, they do. No single choice is a perfect candidate. No single candidate has the power to transform India by himself. For India is not a land of individuals, but one of communities and families. If change happens, it will happen not because one man brought the change; it will happen because the entire country rallies behind that man and turns the tide toward change.

When I returned home this morning, Brian asked how many of my classmates would vote. I estimated probably at least 75%, but it could be higher.

Voting has ended in Mumbai now. Sadly, the record voter turnout recorded in other locations did not happen in Mumbai. In the end, turnout was estimated at about 52%. Although this number is the highest since 1989, it looks like Mumbaikers are about as enthusiastic about voting as Americans. The 2012 US presidential election recorded 57% turnout.  The Times has an insightful article about why the turnout in Mumbai is so low.

As I spoke to one of Brian’s colleagues last night, it was clear that he wanted change.  An NRI, who has been abroad for more than 20 years, he’s seen how little India has changed in those years. He wants to see India change. Change for himself. Change for his children.

But, change is difficult for Indians to accept and aspire to. A struggle I understand too well. In a culture where the Hindi word for yesterday and tomorrow (kul) is literally the same, time itself does not seem to change. So, how can India change?

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