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I guess with the US Presidential elections, there is generally increased interest around voting. A couple of days ago I was asked  “Is giving voting rights to illiterates in India illogical?” This is what I feel :

No. It is NOT. 

Firstmaking an assumption that illiteracy equals inability to make a wise choice or decide is erroneous. One of the wisest persons I have had the privilege of knowing had only 4 years of primary schooling. Elections results in India in March 1977 have shown that the illiterate (&poor) can decide what is good for them. In fact I am not sure if making an assumption the other way round, that literate people are able to choose and decide wisely, is wrong to the same degree or is even worse.

Second, is based on equality. This means that one person one vote is an inviolable tenet. I know that some of the older democracies like the United States of America and United Kingdom did not have this system and women and / or non-white people were excluded in the initial years. However, India became a republic in 1950 and at that time discrimination on any grounds would have only exacerbated the problems that Dr. B R Ambedkar defined as “trying to ensure equality in a social system that is entirely based on inequality”.

Third, the brilliant educational work done by Sukumar Sen the first Chief Election Commissioner and the guidance of Jawaharlal Nehru ensured that the one act that most Indians understood from 1950 is voting.  In fact even today a lot of social scientists use ‘voting’ as a way to determine choices & priorities of people. 

Two end notes:

  1. Statistics show that the literate & the rich who are widely expected to be able to choose better often do not even bother to vote. This trend has been increasing over the last decades.
  2. IMO danger to Indian democracy will not come from the blandishments offered to the illiterate and poor. It will come from the subversion of democratic institutions and civil society by the rich and the powerful to further their own interests.