The tale of Milk-Lake and the take-away for Democracy

The lake of milk

Long ago, King Akbar built a huge lake in his kingdom. And he asked each household to pour one pot of milk in the lake. People were told to do this activity in the midnight so that by dawn the lake would be full of milk.

All the streets were bustling with activity all through the night. Some women carried pots in their waists like a child, some carried on their heads, and were walking up to the lake, pouring it and returning home.


One smart woman wondered, “If everyone is pouring milk, it wouldn’t matter if I pour just a pot of water. Why should my family sacrifice one pot of pure milk for the sake of the society? Let the ones who’re better off give milk, I can afford to give only water.”

She filled a pot with water, carried it on her head, walked up to the lake and emptied it. It was pitch dark in midnight that none could see what was getting poured. She then walked back home, putting on the expression of every other woman on the street and slept happily with a great sense of satisfaction of having outsmarted the whole society.

The next morning, when Akbar came to the lake to see how much milk has been collected, he was appalled to see that it was all water! Not a drop of milk has been poured in it!


Everyone has thought the same. ‘Why me?’ This tendency to be a social loafer and to freewheel on others’ effort is present in all of us. Some people do get away scot free because the system fails to hold them accountable. Had Akbar announced beforehand that he would make a porridge out of the milk collected and distribute to each household for free, people would have reacted differently. Assuming everyone likes to have a pot of porridge, we can conclude that they would not have poured water, for they were aware that their actions will have some bearing on themselves.


Elections are no different

The ritual of elections in a democracy is a similar exercise, wherein one casts a vote in lieu of a pot of milk. Since the outcome is dependent on the collective effort, people feel that there’s an abysmal perceptible chance of their vote making a difference in the electoral outcome. Thus there’s insufficient incentive for one to take the trouble of going to the poll-booth, standing in long queues and cast the vote.


Water pot gang versus Milk pot gang

Suppose there were hundred households in the kingdom. And, the King had announced that whatever gets collected in the lake would be used to make porridge and distributed equally amongst all households. There were 30 households who did not like to have a porridge. So they came together to sabotage the whole exercise and decided to pour one pot of milk each.

Now, the 70 households who love to have a porridge have only 2 options- To pour a pot of water each and later worry about the water-porridge that gets distributed or pour a pot of milk each and enjoy the porridge, even though it would’ve got diluted a little.


And it’s a fact that the naysayer gang congregates more easily than the majority. Thus it’s incumbent upon the optimists to come together and contribute their share of milk to the society so that everyone can have atleast a diluted porridge. If a naysayer abstained from the exercise, it concentrates the milk in porridge whereas if an optimist abstains, it dilutes it even further. The outcome of the exercise is dependent on the strength of participation of either gang.

Therefore, all optimistic citizens and patriotic Indians must come out and cast their vote. There’s no incentive to vote. But the deterrent to not voting is far too grave a concern- having hung coalitions without a strong nucleus, naysayers’ representatives getting elected and so on. Your vote is your duty! Unless your duty is discharged, you’ve no moral grounds to claim your rights. A democracy saves you only as long as you save it.

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