India is Having an Election

by Lily James

You can almost see them erupting like emergency flares across the country. Every 4 seconds another Young American comes of age. They discover that love isn't really paradise, their parents aren't really ogres, that democracy isn't really democracy, and that they can't avoid eating pesticides when they make salad. Each little flare that goes off signals the onset of several years of black depression, in which the Young American rides the pendulum of his ideology to the opposite side, away from idealism, fresh-faced innocence and zeal, and toward apathy, existentialism, and postmodern angst. Eventually, of course, as the Young American becomes a Middle Aged American with a wife, family, car, house, and retirement account, he seeks a safe middle ground, and adopts a belief system conducive to his own survival within the civilization of which he is a part. The end result resembles the first blush of "belief" but lacks the vigor, energy, and pathos of the original teenaged passion. Now he believes in democracy because he has to, believes in love because he is married, and believes he can't die from pesticides because he knows he has to eat salad. This process, this numbing dulling process, is the price we pay for having a stable government.

However, in India, they are having an election. In India, military troops and local police must oversee polling and voting, because campaigning in India can include explosions, terrorism, and death. Here's how the election process works in India: They pick 543 people from over 5000 candidates to sit in parliament. Whichever party has the most seats in parliament gets to pick the Prime Minister. Last time they had an election, there was no majority, so after two years of trying to stabilize a minority or form workable coalitions without success, they decided to have another election three years early, hoping to get a majority this time, hoping to stabilize their government.

The Congress Party, which was Gandhi's party, is threatened by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which is expected to win the most seats in this election. This would mean a conservative shift for India, but the Bharatiya Janata Party is not expected to win a sizable and controlling majority, which means that the political instability will continue. No single party has had a controlling majority since 1984. Of course, this has had a devastating effect on the Indian economy. Whichever government takes control will have an immense task ahead of it, a task which the centrist Congress party would attack by continuing to reform the government and opening the economy to foreign investments. The Bharatiya Janata Party will close the economy to foreigners, shielding domestic industry from international competition.

Doesn't it sound interesting? Doesn't it sound VITAL and like if you lived in India you would really really give a shit about who wins the election? Like you would actually risk gunfire and terrorist to go and vote? I wonder how coming of age works in India. I wonder if teenagers move from apathy to involvement, instead of the other way around. What if the outcome of an election meant the difference between having electricity and not having it? Wouldn't democracy take on a whole new meaning for us educated and cynical Americans, who whine about our government and the way the elections are an exercise in futility because the candidates are all alike? Instead of wishing for a real democracy, maybe we should become more fond of our fake one. Real democracies are interesting, but then so is having a working toilet and an electric lamp by the bed.

Lily James is a freelance writer and web designer based in Chicago. Her book, The Great Taste of Straight People, was published last fall, and she is the editorial director of The Playground.