Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Do Indian elections matter to Pandit Ji and Aslam?

Read any newspaper story or watch any news channel, the persons who are quoted and those who are referred to are mostly the upwardly mobile Indian.

They include the software techie, the BPO guy, a businessman or an IIM graduate apart from celebrities.

It is this particular section of urban class, which constitutes less than 5% of the population, that gets disproportionate attention.

During election time, an exception is made. The farmers are also thought of and there are promises of waiving electricity bills or easy loans.

However, there is a huge India aside. I spoke to Aslam and Pandit Ji, both groundnut sellers. Through out the day these two vendors carry the bag full of moong-phali along with a balance (tarazu) and move on selected routes, trying to earn some money by selling the groundnuts.

For them sensex, income tax and foreign affairs are not major issues. Pandit Ji's son passed XII but with 50% marks and he has no connections to get his son admission into any college. He can't afford private college fee.

Besides, Pandit Ji has a severe infection in his foot but the government hospital turned him away. He has no money to go to a private hospital. He has a big family and has a hell lot of problems that seem to have no solution.

Aslam has also his share of problems. "If I manage to sell groundnut worth Rs 150, then I save Rs 40-60 per day but that's not enough to meet my expenses". On bad days he makes Rs 30.

He has a wife and a young kid. Wife makes carry bags out of newspapers and sells them at shops to get some money but it's hardly of any help. The tall promises of politicians in this election hardly matter to them. Aslam once went to a local corporator for relief after flood but eventually he got nothing.

The irony is that nobody bothers about the poor any more or need for a real change. The most basic need is urgent and inexpensive medial care. However, it is no longer an issue. The middle-class stopped going to government hospitals and as a result nobody bothers about them.

Poor go to government hospitals only to be told that the doctor hasn't come. If they are fortunate to get the doctor, there are no medicines.

As the vocal middle-class has abandoned these places, nobody takes up these issues as newspapers and channels only listen to the class. In rural areas, situations are even worse.

The second basic need is education. But the era when a poor guy studying in a government school could aim for the sky, is almost passe. Now you throw money and get a degree. Where is parity and equal opportunity?

While MPs and MLAs raise their perks by thousands, millions of elderly citizens don't even get the minimal pension meant for destitute, that is barely a few hundreds a month. Pandit Ji and Aslam are just two persons who fall in a particular category of vendors.

There are people who work as drivers for Rs 3,000 a month, those who works as private security guards for less than 2,500 (and those who work in garment shops and hotels, there are guys working as labourers, masons, coolies, repairers, signboard painters, waiters, mechanics and numerous such professions) who don't even hope for a raise of Rs 100-300 a year.

There are teachers in private schools who don't get even 3,000 a month. And so many other people working in hundreds of other professions. A serious illness or an operation in a family is enough to give them a financial jolt for several years. Unfortunately this is not an issue in elections.

The election has cost us Rs 10,000 crore. Mostly it's the rich who fight the election and such is the trend that an honest person who doesn't have either filthy money or party backing wouldn't even be able to introduce himself to more than a few thousand of electorate, let alone create an impact on the entire constituency of over 10 lakh to 20 lakh.

After getting votes, they go back and the poor citizen doesn't even dare to knock at the doors of such palatial houses, even for genuine works. So what's positive about the election?

Yes there is talk about development, but that's all hollow. What any person with a critical family member needs is urgent medical care at lesser cost, but no party and no candidate has even raised the issue of healthcare for all Indians.

Not even the educated middle-class that should have set the agenda. We know we can afford better treatment and we don't care about the poor. Plain hypocrisy. We are worried about job losses but we don't care about millions of lives lost due to lack of medical attention.

In rural India, more than 100,000 women die during pregnancy, just because of lack of proper health care. Though 90% of them are preventable. So what are the issues for the Lok Sabha polls 2009. Just think of it. What sort of election is that and what sort of people are we?

[Photos: Pandit Ji (top) and Aslam]