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Towards 2024: Time for ‘We the People of India’ to wake up before it is too late

By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ* 

It is Constitution Day once again! We, the people of India, gratefully remember 26 November 1949 when the Constitution of India was passed and adopted by the Constituent Assembly. The Constituent Assembly comprised women and men of distinction, who were able to represent the heart and soul of the people of India without fear or favour. They gave of their best, so that we may a visionary Constitution, which would be the mainstay for and of democracy in India!
In less than six months from now (around end-April, early-May 2024), the General Elections 2024 are due to be held in the country. These elections are expected to be crucial in the context of the future of democracy in India. One does not need too much of intelligence to realise that the country has reached abysmal depths on possibly every parameter necessary for a vibrant, meaningful and people-centred democracy.
It is imperative therefore, that every single adult citizen (above the age of 18 years) of the country exercises one’s franchise and does so wisely. Before that, however, one needs to ensure that one’s name is registered on the Electoral Rolls.
As a starting point: First visit the website of the Election Commission of India https://eci.gov.in/ for immediate, updated and accurate information regarding the entire election process. This website has all the necessary information. In some places, it has already been announced that 9 December 2023, will be the last date for registering one’s name on the Electoral Rolls.
Here are guidelines to ensure that people register themselves and engage meaningfully in the electoral process: which is the right and duty of every citizen! Some pointers, which may be helpful, include:

I. THE ELECTORAL ROLL:

Ø if you are 18 years and above (or will turn 18 in the next few months) and a citizen of India, you must have your name on the Electoral Roll (ER)
Ø it is essential for every adult citizen of India
Ø check immediately whether your name is on the ER (by visiting the ECI website / your State CEO website / Taluka Office / Collector’s Office / the local branch Office of a national political party)
Ø for inclusion of one’s name on the ER, you will have to fill Form 6
Ø ask the concerned Officer on what date you should return to check whether your name is in the ER
Ø for any objection or inclusion of name/s, you will have to fill Form 7
Ø for correction of entries in the Electoral Rolls, you will have to fill Form 8
Ø write your complaints to the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) of your State and to the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Delhi (complaints@eci.gov.in)
Ø always retain copies of your application / letters, signed by the receiving Officer, for further reference
Ø ensure that you have the Elector’s Photo Identity Card (EPIC)
Ø remember having an EPIC does NOT mean that your name is on the ER
Ø Constantly check on the ER if your name is still there –particularly 2 to 3 weeks BEFORE your Election Day; there are several instances of the names of registered voters mysteriously disappearing from the ER , just before elections
Ø Organise in your institution a competent team/s with a computer/s to help people to register themselves
Ø help the poor, the vulnerable, the differently-abled ,to register themselves on the ER

II. POLITICAL INVOLVEMENT:

Ø get involved in mainstream politics
Ø encourage / support political parties which focus on governance and on issues related to transparency, human rights, justice, liberty, equality, fraternity, secularism, socialism, pluralism and peace and the safeguarding of the Constitutional Rights and freedoms of all.
Ø Before Eection Day:
  • check out complete details of the candidates, the parties plan to nominate
  • organise public debates / dialogues with them and assess their views / opinions / promises / track-record 
  • study their Election Manifesto of the previous elections and based on that manifesto, see whether the ruling party / sitting candidate has fulfilled the promises made
  • assess their views on all vulnerable/marginalized sections of society particularly, the poor the tribals/adivasis, dalits, women, children, small farmers/migrant workers/casual workers, minorities, LGBTQI community
  • question (preferably in writing) the candidates on critical subjects which plague the country today like rising prices, growing unemployment, widening gap between the rich and the poor, the takeover of precious natural resources (particularly the jal, jungle aur jameen of the adivasis) and profiteering Government-owned enterprises by some of the corporate sector, drinking water, education( particularly the National Education Policy),food, security, housing, ecology( climate change, global warming, use of fossil fuels), employment, agriculture ( the situation of the small farmers; the anti-farmer policies) health, displacement, migrant workers, casual labourers (the four labour codes) , electoral bonds, demonetization, rampant corruption ( like buying up duly elected politicians from another party),anti-conversion laws, denigration of minorities, misuse of Constitutional/ quasi bodies (like the NIA, ED , CBI , Income Tax, police), military spending. nuclearisation , draconian laws like the UAPA, the incarceration of human rights defenders , the throttling of freedom of speech and expression
  • never fall for their empty promises or ‘freebies’

III. ON VOTING DAY:

Ø cast your vote fearlessly
Ø encourage all others to freely cast their votes too
Ø vote for a party / individual that is NOT corrupt, criminal, communal and / or casteist and is committed to protecting the sanctity of the Constitution
Ø if you notice any bogus voting, rigging or booth capturing, bring it to the notice of the police / Election Officers immediately and preferably in writing
Ø ensure that there is photo/video/audio documentary evidence
Ø make sure that the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) you use – works correctly also demand that there is a Voter verifiable paper audit trial (VVPAT)
Ø you have the right to exercise your franchise as ‘None of the Above’ (NOTA) under Rule 49 – O

IV. AFTER ELECTIONS:

Ø find out the details of your elected representative (name, address, telephone / fax nos., email, etc)
Ø arrange that organizations, villages / groups invite the person to share his / her views about the area for the next five years
Ø ensure that you keep in touch with him / her constantly
Ø remember that they have budgetary allocations for their constituency; find out for what programmes this money is being utilized
Ø insist that your views / concerns are voiced in the assembly / parliament
Ø ensure that they do NOT endorse any draconian or anti-people legislation
Ø remind the representative that as a voter you have a right to ask for his / her resignation for non-performance
On 25 November 1949, in a passionate speech in the Constituent Assembly the Visionary Dr. Ambedkar warned the nation of three things that could destroy the democratic structure and fabric of the nation, “If we wish to maintain democracy not merely in form, but also in fact, what must we do? The first thing in my judgement we must do is to hold fast to constitutional methods of achieving our social and economic objectives…. where constitutional methods are open, there can be no justification for (...) unconstitutional methods. These methods are nothing but the Grammar of Anarchy and the sooner they are abandoned, the better for us. The second thing we must do is to observe the caution which John Stuart Mill has given to all who are interested in the maintenance of democracy, namely, not “to lay their liberties at the feet of even a great man, or to trust him with power which enable him to subvert their institutions in politics, Bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship. The third thing we must do is not to be content with mere political democracy. We must make our political democracy a social democracy as well. Political democracy cannot last unless there lies at the base of it, social democracy”. In voicing his strong sentiments, Ambedkar would certainly visualized India 2023, when some are determined to destroy the entire Constitution.
It is time for ‘we the people of India’ to wake up immediately , before it is just too late- we must ensure that as citizens of India, we seriously pay heed to the warnings of Dr Ambedkar and protect the sanctity of our Constitution and our democracy, at all costs!
---
*Human rights, reconciliation and peace activist/writer

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