By Milan K. Sinha:
Almost everything went off well during the recently concluded election to five states with declaration of all results by 9th Dec’13 and completion of process of government formation even in Delhi where the electorates gave a fractured mandate. The discussion on gain or loss to political parties – mainly the two largest ones, the Congress and the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) with emergence of a new political force, AAP (Aam Aadmi Party) in the country’s capital followed in full swing. It is still on in the light of inherent political message of this semi- final exercise for the final round – 2014 Lok Sabha elections to be held before May.
Undeniably, the Election Commission of India (ECI) should derive satisfaction on timely completion of this basic democratic exercise and also for perceptible improvement in voter turnout across four states. The only exception was Mizoram where the percentage was slightly less than what it was in 2008. Interestingly, however, in Mizoram the voter turnout was the highest among all the five states at 81.29%, but it is below the figure of 82% polled in 2008.
Statistically speaking, while Delhi recorded a turnout of 65.13%, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan registered a turnout of 77.05%, 72.51% and 75.20% respectively. This percentage in last election of 2008 was 57.58 % in Delhi, 71.06% in Chhattisgarh, 69.78 % in Madhya Pradesh and 66.25% in Rajasthan.
The poll watchers and political analysts are of the opinion that the improved voter turnout indicates greater participation of young Indians, particularly first time voters, both male and female – as per 2011 census, this number is around 150 million, which is about one-fifth of the total electorate of the country; a desire for change, growing political awareness, effective mobilization by political parties and also the impact of various awareness campaigns of election commission through social media, hoardings, banners, public interest messages in electronic and print media, campus ambassadors, social workers etc.
It is interesting to know that the Constitution of India has vested in the Election Commission of India the superintendence, direction and control of the entire process for conduct of elections to Parliament and Legislature of every State and to the offices of the President and the Vice-President of India. As such, it endeavours to conduct elections in a free and fair manner so that faith of the people in the democratic process is strengthened. And to achieve this pious goal, it is necessary that all persons and political parties have an equal opportunity to contest elections and all voters have an equal opportunity of making a choice by casting their votes. It being so, elections must ensure that all eligible citizens are enrolled properly and are given the opportunity to vote in an informed, transparent and ethical manner.
Now, limiting our discussion only on voter turnout in the current situation – after six decades of election management, in the light of ECI’s mandate and also its own perception of calling an election really successful, it is pertinent to look at the issue a bit deeply.
We are a 66 year old independent country where the Election Commission was established in accordance with the Constitution on 25th January 1950 and where the first general election was held 61 years ago in 1952 with 61.20% voter turnout. But, it is extremely shocking to observe that the voter turnout in last Lok Sabha election of 2009 was only 58% – 3% less than what it achieved in 1952. Ironically, the turnout percentage hovered between the highest of 61.97% and lowest of 56.97% in the seven general elections held during the period between 1989 to 2009. That does mean, besides many things, that around 40% adult citizens have no say in electing a government that is supposed to rule them too in the name of inclusive politics based on equity and justice. Why it is so? Is it the real democracy our constitution talks about?
It’s common knowledge that the voting percentage, despite being a misnomer (as higher voter turnout does not always mean higher number of people reaching polling booths—it’s just that the percentage is higher, not the number) for known statistical reasons, remains higher in assembly elections as people come out in relatively large number to exercise their franchise mainly in order to express their opinion on local issues affecting them directly. But, here too the overall voting percentage in state elections is not more than 70% which is 30% less than the ultimate golden figure.
Reports say that the election commission took many initiatives which include its mega awareness programme of Systematic Voters’ Education and Electoral Participation (SVEEP) — particularly in areas known for low turnouts to encourage voters to exercise their basic democratic right. All this must have a definite bearing on the surge in voting percentage besides factors like inclusion and participation of youths and women in sizable numbers across the country due to multiple socio-political factors. But still there is a big gap in target and achievement which calls for serious introspection on the part of ECI.
To put it in plain words, the election commission can’t afford to be complacent going by the percentage improvement (for which it is receiving lots of praise and complements) and may also be improvement in absolute numbers of voters casting their votes to some extent for obvious reasons, it has the duty not only to ensure enrolment of all eligible citizens very genuinely- pruning the fake voters simultaneously from its rolls, on highest priority, but also to create such a congenial situation which prompts, if not compel, every voter to cast his or her vote (now NOTA option is also available on EVM) in a free and fair manner to register minimum voting turnout of 90% in next Lok Sabha elections and in each election thereafter.
Isn’t it the most fundamental task to be performed by the poll regulator of the country boldly and proactively in all possible manner? Hope, the ECI, the central and all state governments together with all political parties, make this happen by enlisting support and cooperation of civil society in an unprecedented manner to let our democracy function in true sense of the term.
The writer worked in senior positions in financial sector for three decades following three years of active writing in various newspapers and magazines. A post graduate in Chemistry from Patna University and also a graduate with Economics.
Presently, besides being a freelance writer/ a regular contributor to newspapers & magazines also engaged as a Stress Management, Lifestyle Management & Wellness consultant, Motivational Speaker and Awareness campaigner.
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