India, the largest democracy in the world

Today is Election Day in our state of Karnataka.  India will soon have a new Prime Minister.  The nationwide results will be known on May 16 but I do not know when the new person will take power.

I have followed the campaign with a keen outsider’s interest since we moved here in October.  I purposely decided not to take sides, since I don’t know the first thing about Indian politics and find it rather distasteful when people feign to know something they don’t, but honesty, it’s hard not to have an opinion.  It’s been rather entertaining!

Dr. Manmohan Singh, the current Prime Minister, is not seeking reelection. There are two candidates.

One is the current Chief Minister of the state of Gujarat since 2001, the equivalent of a U.S. Governor.  The other is the son of Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi, grandson of Indira Gandhi, great-grandson of Nehru, and no relation to Mahatma Gandhi.  One has been allegedly linked to the 2002 Gujarat riots (between Hindus and Muslims) that left between 900 to 2000 people dead, to the point that he was denied a U.S. visa as well as denied entry in several other Western countries.  The other has been linked to his mom, dad, grandmother and great-grandfather.  One wears funny hats.  The other doesn’t wear funny hats.  One grew up in poverty.  The other has seen poor people, drank bad water in 2008 and thus had diarrhea, and in 2009, was bitten by mosquitoes that may have carried malaria and dengue.  One is a great orator.  The other knows how to repeat a well-rehearsed text, to the point that after he bombed the only interview he gave a journalist, his party cancelled all others.

Enough about those two, let the Indian people decide.

Will they really decide?  India is the largest democracy in the world.  China has more people, but no democracy.  Yet India has a high illiteracy rate.  Many people vote according to caste or religion (don’t we do something similar?).

The process is different than in the US or France.  Indians don’t all vote on the same day, the vote extends over a period of two weeks, depending on the state.  Election day is a holiday (no yoga for me tonight).  No alcohol is served or sold the day prior and the day of the election (so they stock up in advance). They have to be registered in advance and show photo ID to vote (insert snarly remark about the US voting system here).  Then, to further decrease voting fraud, after casting their ballot, they are marked with indelible ink on a finger and nail.  A lot of young voters are taking selfies of their finger, now called “selfinks”, to show pride in their participation in the democratic process.  There is no absentee ballot, which means that all migrant workers (and there are millions) do not vote.  A person should not have to travel more than 5 kilometers to find a voting place so there are thousands over the area.  As I type this, E. is on a scooter ride filming election places (video available when the results come in).

There are other elections taking place, which has brought other situations that leave an American observer baffled.  The number of archaic sexist remarks is astounding, especially after the country’s outrage following the infamous Delhi rape/murder in December 2012.  Comments inciting violence, or justifying violence against women are mind blowing.  One politician seriously advised chopping one of the candidates to pieces.  Another local candidate regularly gets pounded with eggs, tomatoes, has ink thrown at him, even gets slapped in the face.  It seems every time he gets hit, he gets thousands in donations.

Let freedom ring!!

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