Back in 2012, my wife Chryselle and I almost without our realising it got fairly involved in Fr. Bismarque Dias’s election campaign in the Cumbarjua constituency. I am not even from the constituency, although I have ancestral roots to the area, being a Zuenkar on my father’s side.

But that’s not the reason we volunteered. I’ve written about the reasons his message appealed to me, so I won’t go into that again. But I’d like to focus on the reaction of many people on hearing that he had thrown his hat into the ring. To be sure, Fr. Bismarque had a strong core group in the constituency who believed in him and supported him, but critics and sceptics carped from the sidelines as well.

“Arré, tell him he’s wasting his time.” “He’ll never win.” “He’ll only end up splitting the vote, and we really can’t have that.”

Feelers were sent to his supporters to dissuade him from carrying on his campaign, with the same logic: the incumbent had to be unseated, so why not join forces with the opposition, rather than ‘splitting the vote’?

I had a conversation with quite a few; many of them actually liked Fr. Bismarque and knew of his long track record of activism and honesty and sincerity. “So why won’t you vote for him? Even when you know he’s a good man, a clean man, which is more than can be said for his rivals?”

“Because he’ll lose, and we don’t want to split the vote.” It was enough to make one want to scream: “But he won’t lose if you all vote for him! And then there won’t be a split vote, but a victory for him! Just give him a chance. Do you want to be stuck in this eternal tired ping-pong between the same old options, all of which have let you down in the past?”

I have no idea which way they eventually voted, but their prophecy was a self-fulfilling one, so they probably didn’t give Fr. Bismarque that chance.

Democracy

But this twisted logic seems to play out against every new entrant. By new entrant, I mean a really new fresh face or group of faces, not a bunch of old hands floating a ‘new party’ with a catchy name and slogan, but essentially selling old wine (or should one say pickle?) in new bottles.

My journey to the Aam Aadmi Party took a while. After the brutal murder of Fr. Bismarque, something in me died as well. I missed the hope he radiated, and I felt desolate and bereft of a positive voice to listen to and rally behind.

The insidious rumour mill (“beware of them, they’re like this and they’re like that”, “they’re the B team of (fill in the blank)”, “beware of their Delhi connection”) was a temporary stumbling block in my path to AAP. The instinctive wariness of politicians rose to the surface, like a survival instinct.

But despite this, among all the parties in the fray, AAP seemed the best and most sensible option to me. I have long admired the forthrightness and honesty of Arvind Kejriwal, and his Panjim rally in May 2016 was a major turning point for me.

From then on, I got inexorably drawn into the AAP ambit, although I didn’t do nearly as much as most of the other volunteers. But I could talk about the option that AAP was offering the electorate to those I met in my social circle, and I did.

And again I encountered the same logic: “You guys mean well, but you’re going to split the vote, and we can’t let that happen.”

The logic is so bizarre: One wants to oust known devchar X. But the electorate resorts to voting for known but (supposedly) lesser devchar Y, even though Y has let them down several times before when he was in power, and even when they are given the option of choosing an unknown angel Z. An opportunity for real change is therefore missed, and we have the surreal political situation we are in today.

There is certainly much more to the performance of AAP in this election, but the fear of ‘splitting the vote’ cannot be ignored.

Muscle and money power worked heavily against Fr. Bismarque’s campaign. Goondas sent by rivals would prevent his supporters from boarding the ferry to campaign on the islands of Divar and Jua. Members of the public would also attest to being offered money bribes in exchange for votes.

Another weird notion is the cynical concept of the ‘wasted’ vote, which affected Fr. Bismarque’s campaign as well. It functions along the lines of: “Yes, you are a good, honest candidate, but… your rivals are just too powerful, so it’d be pointless ‘wasting’ my vote on you. Sorry.”

Sorry indeed. Voting somehow brings out the gambler in many of us, in wanting to vote for a ‘winner’, not a loser; for a ‘sure thing’, not a ‘maybe’. But what happened to voting with a conscience? What happened to voting for someone we really believe in, and giving him/her a chance? Why has voting become such a tactical move, like a chess gambit, rather than putting our vote where our heart is and where our moral compass points? Or where it ought to point?

Democracy works only when all of us treat it with respect. It degenerates into a game of chance and a farce when all of us, whether voters or candidates, throw our scruples to the winds.

(An edited version of this article was published on 26 March 2017 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

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