Yet there are larger issues behind the electoral spectacle that must not be overlooked. India’s elections have, over the years, deepened and broadened the composition of the political establishment. Sociologists have analyzed the class composition of India’s legislatures and traced the change from a post-independence Parliament dominated by highly educated professionals to one populated by today’s motley crew of MPs, who are more truly representative of India’s rural heartland.
But the fact that, particularly in India’s northern states, voters elect people referred to openly in the press as “mafia dons,” “dacoit leaders,” and “anti-social elements” is a troubling reflection on the way the electoral process has served Indian democracy. In the last four parliaments, at least a hundred members have had criminal cases pending against them. The resulting alienation of the educated middle class means that fewer and fewer of them go to the polls on Election Day.
The poor, however, do. Whereas psephological studies in the United States have demonstrated that the poor do not vote in significant numbers (presidential-election turnout in Harlem averaged 23% before Barack Obama’s two candidacies), the opposite is true in India.
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