While we wait for ballot boxes to open today to know the results of the five recently-held Assembly elections, the voter has already emerged a clear winner. The turnout number from Delhi, which voted on Wednesday, has been especially encouraging. Once notorious for its electoral indifference, the national capital has broken all records this time with an impressive turnout of 67 per cent—its highest ever since 1993 when its first Assembly election was held.
The Delhi figure is in keeping with the overall nationwide trend of increased voter participation. Take a look at the numbers: Chhattisgarh recorded 77 per cent turnout as opposed to 70.61 per cent in 2008; Madhya Pradesh hit 72.52 per cent compared to 69.52 per cent in 2008; Mizoram performed remarkably well at 81.29 per cent, even though that was marginally lower than its 2008 figure; Rajasthan also polled better this time at 72.52 per cent compared to 66.48 per cent in 2008.
In fact, this trend has consistently gained strength over the past two decades. Between 2003 and 2012, 24 Assembly elections were held and at least 19 of them registered an increased voter turnout. This trend has also proven wrong old assumptions of electoral behaviour—a high turnout reflects high anti-incumbency sentiment, whereas a low turnout means a vote in favour of status quo. It has also united voters from all spectrums—rural and urban, and even those in insurgency-hit areas have all come out in large numbers to exercise their franchise.
Though the principal contestants in most of the state Assemblies that went to polls are the Congress and BJP, elections to Delhi Assembly have acquired a special salience this time round. Delhi is no stranger to swinging fortunes, but ever since the days of the legendary city of Indraprastha, the war for its throne has always been a straight contest between two claimants. Polls 2013 would make history as three contestants—incumbent Congress, opposition BJP and wildcard Aam Aadami Party (AAP)—slug it out for the city state’s reins this time.
AAP’s debut has brought in an almost single-minded focus on corruption, forcing the BJP and Congress to sit up and take notice of the simmering anger among people who have to fight daily for basic amenities.
The Delhi of the malls and Metro rail is still some way away for those in the dingy and crowded colonies on the margins. The new dispensation must take a holistic look at the National Capital Region (NCR) and come up with a new blueprint for Delhi taking into account the changed realities. The effort ought to be to turn the crown of thorns into a jewel in the crown, something that can be done with a better model of planning and innovation.
The city has spread out over the years into what is amorphously termed as NCR. This makes policing all the more harder. Those living in the suburbs of Gurgaon and Noida and work in Delhi cross seamlessly across state borders. In a similar manner, criminals too move around with ease, making law enforcement more difficult.
In a rather ironic sense, the growth pangs of the NCR represent the inequalities and distortions of the Indian democracy. This accounts for Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s recent warnings to those saddled with the governance of Delhi that they cannot afford to ignore the stakes “outsiders” hold in NCR. Delhi may be a glaring example, but significant increase in internal migrations during the last two decades have already started changing the political profile of metropolitan cities all over India. The process will invariably involve elements of social conflicts. But it offers scope for growth of unifying forces which are capable of combating divisive parochial forces.
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