High Voter Turnout Reflect Mandate for Change
By Ajit Kumar Jha - NEW DELHI
Published: 08th Dec 2013 06:43:28 AM
In Chhattisgarh, 75 per cent; in Madhya Pradesh, 72 per cent; in Rajasthan, 75 per cent; in Delhi, 67 per cent; and in Mizoram, 81 per cent. With the exception of Mizoram, where voter turnout dipped marginally by 1 per cent compared to its 2008 figure of 82 per cent, the average voting percentages in each of the four states have swollen significantly from their previous record. Indeed, the turnout rates in the just-concluded state Assembly polls of 2013, except Mizoram, are unprecedented.
What is causing such high turnouts? Especially puzzling is why such a high turnout in Delhi, given previous reports of electoral ennui noticed mainly among urban voters? Equally enigmatic is the cause for the increasing mobilisation of voters in three of the erstwhile BIMARU states: Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. What is the meaning of the mandate?
The official explanation provided by the Election Commission (EC), and echoed by some analysts, is the list of new initiatives to raise voter consciousness and the revision of voter lists, mainly deletion of ghost voters, and some other measures. Even if one admits that the EC has done a commendable job on these fronts, improved logistics and initiatives by the EC constitute just one factor in increasing turnouts that may be necessary but surely not sufficient. After all, the EC has been busy revising polls and relocating booths ever since T N Seshan took over as Chief Election Commissioner in 1990 and transformed it into an august body. In 1993, this resulted in very high turnout of almost 65 per cent in Delhi.
What is most revealing today, aside from the fact that onion and tomato prices have reached sky high, is that the Congress-ruled states of Delhi and Rajasthan witnessed a dramatic jump of 9 per cent and 8 per cent voter turnout respectively compared to 2008. The BJP-ruled Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh saw a more moderate increase of 4 per cent and 3 per cent. The clincher is if it is purely EC initiatives, why the massive variation between Congress-ruled states and BJP-ruled states? This decisive difference in turnout trends between the two different regimes perhaps contains the genie that will be revealed once results are officially declared on Sunday.
Irrespective of who wins or loses, these numbers actually narrate a great story of a silent wave sweeping across the country, a wave demanding change. The wave underscores a brave new world of enthusiastic, but livid crowds of voters, unhappy with runaway inflation and high unemployment. The million mutinies have overnight transformed into million mandates. It is this wave, if it continues to sweep across the country, which might prove to be a curtain raiser for Lok Sabha elections 2014.
Consider the case of Delhi: The new wave of voters—largely first-timers, women voters and those from the blue collar sections particularly from reserved constituencies—have been thronging the polling booths in the Capital, previously known for its voter apathy. In 2003, the voter turnout rate in Delhi was as low as 47 per cent, 20 points lower than that of today. In contrast, the voting enthusiasm in Delhi today is so overwhelming that it literally forced the polling booth officers, selected by the EC, to extend polling hours by as much as four hours.
Take a look at the other three states: What makes the story extraordinary is the same silent wave, the same anger, the same enthusiasm is repeated countrywide, in the vast swathes of the Hindi heartland, in three erstwhile BIMARU states. In the 1980s, Madhya Pradesh witnessed turnout rates below 50 per cent. Rajasthan saw 49 per cent as late as 1998. Chhattisgarh was created later, but what is extraordinary about this new state is its 75 per cent voter turnout despite Maoist threats and regardless of the two phases in which voting took place. Given a strong association between literacy and turnout rates, barely 15 years ago, Rajasthan, MP and Chhattisgarh were characterised by extremely low turnout rates. It is true that literacy rates have jumped dramatically.
Today, the genie lies in the variation in turnout levels among the states. Delhi and Rajasthan, ruled by the Congress, witnessed the highest turnouts hides a fierce story of double anti-incumbency, against the Congress governments. The Narendra Modi-led BJP, which is main challenger for the Congress (as well as the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi) stands to gain from this popular wave. The numerous opinion and exit polls attempted to predict such a tale. Only official counting of the polls will confirm this story. But regardless of who wins or loses, the record turnout of 2013 is surely three cheers for democracy.