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Keywords:

  • voting;
  • democracy;
  • citizenship;
  • rights;
  • Tamil Nadu;
  • India

Abstract

This paper contributes to an empirical and theoretical understanding of democracy and political participation in India through an ethnographic study of the meanings attached to voting in rural Tamil Nadu. Based on a study of voting in a rural constituency during the 2009 national elections, the paper explores the variety of motivations that compel people to vote. It explores how voting is informed by popular understandings of rights and duties as citizens, programmatic policies and their local implementation, commitment to caste and party loyalties, and authority of charismatic leaders. The paper explores the roots of the political consciousness and rights awareness that underpin high levels of electoral participation. It suggests that elections form unique moments that allow ordinary people to experience an individual sense of citizenship and of democracy itself while at the same time allowing them to pursue projects of recognition, respect and assertion as members of communities. It is precisely this dual feature that makes voting so enduringly attractive to India's contemporary electorate.