Monday, May 30, 2016

Age limit for voting v. Consuming alcohol drinks in India

That is a very dry heading, but I argue it is appropriate because I am going to be discussing something about consuming alcohol, getting wet, in a sense.
When I was in Delhi, just a few years ago, before the corruption, Anna Hazare, AAP brouhaha, there was a big media argument about why the minimum age for voting is lower than that for consuming alcohol. In Delhi it was 18 for the former and 21 for the latter. The same situation obtains even now, I believe.
Why bring up that argument now? I waited long enough hoping that someone would show the idiocy of that comparison. But, that someone has to be me, I just now decided. Hence this post, now.
I trace this invalid comparison to the much ballyhooed “Every vote counts” campaign that gets shriller as an election approaches. This was the case in Tamil Nadu which recently went through this exercise in this narrowly defined democracy.
The argument for lowering the legal age for drinking takes a cue from this exhortation of people to vote and says, if one can be trusted to elect a government at 18 why can’t they (The Guardian, the newspaper from London is arguing for a gender neutral ‘they’ as the third person singular pronoun, to remove the infirmity in the English language; I agree) be trusted to drink responsibly.
The typical response against lowering the age for drinking goes something like, alcohol is addictive, has adverse effects on health, is a drain on resources, spoils family life, creates social nuisance and so on. Admittedly, these do not respond to the pointed argument on the other side, why the difference in the minimum age for voting and drinking.
Hard to gain traction.
But, the most crucial point is missed in this cacophony - the difference between the effect of voting by an individual and the effect of drinking by that individual, if they fall between 18 years and 21 years of age.
“Every vote counts” is false. It discounts group behaviour in elections where millions vote. One has to go beyond history to look at any such situation in the real world. Once in a long while, there may be a case where a few votes mattered in who was declared the winner. That should be treated as a black swan event, but without the feared consequences. After all, a winner in an election belongs to a party or a group. But, the group/party is bigger and more influential than the individual and the individual’s effects will not amount to even a ripple in the placid waters of a lake when a stone is thrown (Indian governance politics is a placid lake, between elections!).
This is hidden in the simplistic slogan raised to drive people to vote. That is OK. But, if it is taken as the datum for comparison between voting and drinking, as regards minimum age, sorry, the argument is not even wrong.
Drunk driving has consequences in the here and now. I have seen the Hindi movie Jolly, LL B. That comes as close to real life as one can possibly imagine. An individual driving an SUV mows down people sleeping on the sidewalk. I dare anyone to even imagine a situation of such consequences to an individual by the act of another individual in the election arena, in the specific case of not voting / not being allowed to vote.
None can.
I rest my case.
Raghuram Ekambaram


Aadhithya Shivalingam said...

Also the action of a person voting never causes public nuisance. Pressing a button and walking out (maybe a customary selfie after that) is in no way similar to vomits at public places.

mandakolathur said...

You are so right, AS. Thanks