Letter: Indian elections

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The Independent Culture
Sir: Peter Popham's report "Indian election proves vast exercise in futility" (15 September) reflects the prevailing tendency in media coverage of Indian politics to trumpet what have been called "the prophecies of doom".

India, the argument goes, is bitterly divided along religious and communal lines. Voters are uneducated, volatile and cast their ballots on the basis of prejudice and superstition.

They have a propensity to indulge in "skulduggery of every description", and they simply can't be trusted to take democracy seriously. Yet opinion surveys reveal overwhelming majorities in support of democracy and secularism.

A 1997 survey conducted to mark the 50th anniversary of independence found that 95 per cent believe their vote to be "valuable".

Sixty per cent believe that heads of religious organisations should not be allowed to contest elections.

Only six per cent see religion or caste as reasons to support a particular candidate.

These are not the kind of statistics you would expect if Indians saw their votes as mere instruments of communal warfare.

Popham's assertion that "voting resolves nothing" displays a shocking disregard for a process that gives India's poor a vital instrument for change - inadequate perhaps, but certainly not inconsequential.

It is hard, for example, to argue that the post-emergency election of 1977 resolved nothing.

SIMON KOVAR

London NW11

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