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Festival of democracy: Why this apathy?

   By Vijay Darda | 22-04-2024

We, the citizens of largest democracy in the world, must reflect on this crucial question!

The first phase of polling for 102 Lok Sabha seats across the country has been completed. Political analysts are currently busy analysing the possibilities of who might emerge victorious and who might face defeat. They are also examining the internal conflicts within political parties and the measures taken by leaders to queer the pitch for their own party candidates. Moreover, they are also assessing the voter turnout in different areas and comparing it with the last elections. If there is a decrease in voter turnout this time, who stands to gain, etc, etc!

This kind of analysis is quite natural and moreover, some spice is necessary for debate until the results are declared on June 4! Therefore, these debates will persist for the time being. However, my main concern is that we are citizens of the world’s largest democracy. Elections are a grand celebration of democracy and this time, the Election Commission of India went to great lengths to educate the voters. Yet, why was the voter turnout so low? Just before the first phase of elections, I travelled almost 1,400 kilometres by road over two days. Moreover, I travelled to various states. I spoke to common people and tried to understand their sentiments. I observed that particularly among our young voters, the level of enthusiasm that propelled Narendra Modi to victory in 2014, was lacking. After all, what has happened to the voters’ enthusiasm? The youths represent the future of our nation, and if indifference takes hold of them, it does not bode well for our democracy. They are the ones who will shape a new India! I had foreseen a potential decline in voter turnout, and unfortunately, that is exactly what has happened. The voting rate has decreased by two to three per cent. There are essentially two categories of voters: those residing in urban areas and those in rural regions. I will refrain from delving into the allegations and counter-accusations exchanged between the ruling party and the opposition, but it is undeniable that I observed a lack of enthusiasm among both sets of voters. Let us take the example of Nagpur where Union minister and senior BJP leader Nitin Gadkari was contesting the elections with the ‘Vikas Purush’ tag while Congress MLA Vikas Thakre projected himself as the representative of the common man. However, the voter turnout was disappointingly low, with only 42 or 43 per cent of voters casting their votes in many wards.

In terms of the voting percentage, there has been significant progress since the first general elections in India. However, it is important to ask ourselves whether we should be content with this level of progress. The first general elections, which took place from October 1951 to February 1952, involved 489 seats in the Lok Sabha and 4,011 seats in various assemblies. At the time, approximately 44 per cent of the 17.32 crore voters cast their votes. The Congress party emerged victorious, securing 364 seats in the Lok Sabha. Despite the passage of seven decades since the historic elections, the average voting percentage remains below 70 per cent. This raises the question as to why there hasn’t been a significant increase in voter turnout over the years. Indeed, certain states, particularly those in the North-East region, exhibit higher voter turnout compared to the plains of India. However, the disparity in voting percentages across the states raises the question as to why this trend is not consistent nationwide. For instance, recent election data reveals that Tripura stands out as the sole state where voting exceeded 80 per cent. Additionally, West Bengal, Meghalaya, Assam, Sikkim and Puducherry are the only other states where the voter turnout managed to surpass 70 per cent.

I have realised and perhaps you have noticed too, that there is a widespread misconception among many individuals regarding voting day being treated as a holiday. They think what difference will their single vote make? Unfortunately, this line of thinking has led to a large number of people abstaining from going to the polling booth. When 30 per cent of the population refrains from voting, it essentially implies that they no longer play a role in the governance of the nation. By choosing not to exercise your right to vote, you also forfeit your ability to criticise the government. Personally, I believe that if a person opts not to vote without a valid reason, it is only fair to reconsider the government-aided amenities they enjoy.

Another observation is the consistently high voter turnout in tribal regions, contrasting with the trend of politically savvy individuals abstaining from voting. Despite Bihar’s reputation for political engagement, the first phase of voting saw less than 50 per cent participation. Some opt for the NOTA option, with over 1 per cent of voters choosing this in the previous election. However, a significant factor contributing to low voter turnout is the logistical challenges faced by individuals working in distant private sector establishments from their designated polling stations. Providing these individuals with the option of ballot voting could potentially boost voter turnout, a feasible solution in today’s technological era.

What makes me most happy in this election is that seven members of the Shompen tribe in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands exercised their franchise for the first time. I wish all the best for Indian democracy and pray for the day when there will not be a single voter left in the country who has not cast his vote in the elections. It is then that we will say with greater strength and pride… Jai Hind!

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