What Do We Vote For?

SONIPAT, FEBRUARY 5: ​ Sixty year old M.L Sharma sits at his desk hidden behind sheets of newsprint. His Malviya Nagar news and magazine shop sells papers meant for all kinds of audiences: from the middle class Hindi readership’s Dainik Jagran ​ and ​ Navbharat Times to the English-speaking elite ​ Indian Express ​ and ​ Caravan​ . He has a son and two daughters, the youngest of whom is a recent data journalism graduate from Bhagat Singh College in Delhi University.

Sharma has faithfully cast his vote over the past forty years in every election – national, state, and municipal. “I vote for the security of the nation and the spread of its reputation. It should face no harm and be free of debt,” he says. The headlines all around him speak of such critical national matters as the country gears up for the 2019 General Elections.

Democracy in India is vibrant due to the robustness of its elections. People come out in large numbers to vote, even at personal cost. The act of voting is seen as both the “right” and the “duty” of a citizen of India. But while middle-class urban voters like M.L Sharma tend to vote for national issues such as foreign policy and national security in General Elections, concerns become more localised in less affluent sections of society.

Behind another desk in a private university in Sonipat sixty kilometers away, Dinesh Kumar keeps a careful watch on the doors of a student hostel. He works as a guard and earns Rs. 12,000 per month to provide for his family back home in Balgarh, Uttar Pradesh. He lives alone in a small room in the nearby village. He votes for the popular developmental slogan of “​ paani, bijli, sadak.” ​ Despite his pessimism about the generally corrupt nature of politicians, he votes in the hope that good work happens.

Not everyone can keep this hope going. Nisha, a female guard at the university has voted at least 7-8 times, but never at the General Election. “Everyone is selfish. Nobody does anything for anyone else,” she says. She exercises her franchise only at the local panchayat elections. This is not necessarily a choice. Being part of society in her village necessitates voting for a pradhan. “If I want any benefits, I have to vote.”