Urban arrogance in India’s elections

Elections seem to bring some of the worst in us as a society, and there is quite a bit that keep us irritated every election season.  There were those ridiculous statements about rape, among others in the US presidential elections season.  There are quite a few by candidates and their supporters in India that have made me grind my teeth over the last few months. More than the candidates though, what has been driving me nuts is the arrogance that many urban residents have towards rural India that comes to the fore in an election season unlike any other time. The underlying refrain has been that the “uneducated” and the “unaware” get to vote, whereas the enlightened middle class does not. In a few talk shows, experts opined that all the resources in India are being spent on rural areas (an incredible claim!), and that urban voters should turn this this around by turning up to vote. They also claimed that the rural voters being naive and an educated, the resources are ultimately being used for corrupt purposes, as if resources in urban areas will be put to just and efficient use. In a recent talk show, an urban activist in Maharashtra argued that there is a conspiracy to delete the names of “thinking voters” so that they could not exercise their franchise. The clear subtext of her presentation was that IT engineers and other urban educated were not finding the names of the voters list, whereas people even in slums are able to exercise their franchise. It has even become the subtext of mobile phone advertisements such as one by the company Idea, in which a youngster claims that he cannot be fooled just because he is from a village. While the ad does not directly claim that villagers are fools, it would be impossible to frame this without that background understanding. Think for a moment what the chances are that they would shoot an ad at Harvartd or MIT with a student who claims, ‘do not think we are fools just because we are from Harvard and MIT!’.  Such an advertisement will work only with social groups that are accepted to be foolish by the intended viewers, and in it lies its racist-like character. The idea of the urban population being taken for a ride by the rural poor – or with the help of rural poor – has been reiterated again and again in so many forums this season, in a way that I have never heard before. It is particularly irritating considering that many of the urban middle-class people that I have met have very little political understanding, and that the savviest discussions I have had have been in rural areas, where people participate and engage in political discussions and activities a lot more. The arrogant and often nonsensical statements that I hear again and again makes me wonder if there is some kind of a new and aggressive antipathy of the upper middle class urban citizens of India against the poor and the rural citizens.  In the context of growing inequalities, such an animosity is only bound to make India’s democracy worse, and to drive it to a point where a large-scale conflict over the vision for the nation is inevitable.

About Vivek Srinivasan

I work with the Program on Liberation Technology at Stanford University. Before this, I worked with the Right to Food Campaign and other rights based campaigns in India. To learn more, click here.

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