Ink up at @18: Low turnout among young voters remains a concern for ECI

The number of first-time voters has seen a rise of approximately 30 lakh in comparison to the previous Lok Sabha polls held in 2019.
Image used for representational purposes only.
Image used for representational purposes only.Express illustrations

NEW DELHI: More than 1.8 crore young voters in the 18- and 19-year-old bracket are eligible to vote in the ongoing Lok Sabha elections. They constitute about 1.89 percent of the total voters registered in the country, according to the Election Commission data.

Young people who turned 18 on January 1 qualified to be registered as voters. The number of first-time voters has seen a rise of approximately 30 lakh in comparison to the previous Lok Sabha polls held in 2019. The threshold for exercising franchise had been 21 years since the general elections held in 1951–52. However, voting eligibility was reduced by three years in 1989.

While the decade of 1980–1990 witnessed tumults in the political sphere in the country—weakening of non-Congress parties, re-emergence and assassination of former prime minister Indira Gandhi, rise and fall of Rajiv Gandhi as the youngest prime minister, division in the grand old party, and experimentation of the United Front government—two major reforms took place simultaneously to further the agenda of strengthening the democratic setup and cementing the faith of people in the polling process.

Electronic voting machines were used for the first time in a bye-election in Kerala in 1982 and the minimum age for qualifying as a voter was lowered in 1989 with amendments in the rules.

Granting voting rights at an early age was the outcome of the persistent efforts of the lawmakers, as they had been advocating bringing down the voting age in India at par with other liberal democracies.

According to ‘Leap of Faith: Journey of Indian Elections’, a publication of the Election Commission of India (ECI), a joint committee of Parliament recommended in 1971 the reduction of the qualification age. Seven years later, in several states, youngsters attaining the age of 18 years and above were allowed to vote in the local body elections. In general elections, the young electoral population voted for the first time in 1989 after certain amendments and the promulgation of the Constitution (Sixty-first Amendment) Act, 1988.

The development resulted in adding 3.57 crore voters in the age group of 18 to 21 years to the electoral roll.

The decision to conduct elections on the basis of adult suffrage was taken by the Constituent Assembly. However, doubts were raised on the rule given the presence of 17.2 crore people of 21 years of age and older, poor literacy and “lack of political training."

Despite hesitation, the president of Constituent Assembly, Rajendra Prasad, favoured the idea. At the end of the discussions in the Constituent Assembly on holding elections in November 1949, he spoke on the significance of adult suffrage.

“Some people have doubted the wisdom of adult franchise… In my opinion, our people possess intelligence and common sense…They are not literate and do not possess the mechanical skill of reading and writing. But, I have no doubt in my mind that they are able to take measure of their own interest and also of the interests of the country at large if things are explained to them…I have, therefore, no doubt in my mind that if things are explained to them, they will not only be able to pick up the technique of election, but will be able to cast their votes in an intelligent manner,” he had said.

Until then, in imperial India, voting rights were mostly granted on the basis of property, and women would not be enfranchised. The other criteria were taxation, education qualification and military service.

Noted jurist Tanguturi Prakasam, who served as the prime minister of the Madras Presidency, also supported the idea of adult suffrage, suggesting that practice had existed in ancient times.

During the debate, he cited Uttaramerurs’s temple inscription in Tamil Nadu. “Many of us imagine that it is Great Britain that has given us the democratic process of election; that is not so. You will find on the stone walls of that temple written in the Tamil language an inscription to the effect that there was democratic election carried on then on the basis of adult suffrage a thousand years ago. There was adult suffrage as stated there,” Praksham had stated.

The Indian National Congress (INC) and one of the founders of the Communist Party of India (CPI), Manabendra Nath Roy, had been seeking adult suffrage for a long time.

The Congress also passed a resolution calling for formation of a Constituent Assembly based on adult suffrage at its Faizpur session in December 1936.

In 1928, a committee chaired by Motilal Nehru, seeking inspiration from an arrangement in elections to the Central Sikh Shrine Committee (Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee), also recommended political franchise at 21 years.

Low voter turnout, especially among young voters, has been a major cause of concern for the Election Commission of India.

As the country geared up for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, the EC embarked on an innovative journey to engage citizens through unique campaigns such as ‘Turning 18’ and ‘You are the One’ on social media platforms.

The ‘Turning 18’ campaign employs various compelling themes and strategies to capture the attention of its audience.

The strategy involves branding of individual series with thematic logos for easy identification and association. Building on the ‘Turning 18’ campaign, ECI launched another campaign titled ‘You Are The One.’ This initiative aims to recognise and celebrate the invaluable contributions of various stakeholders involved in the electoral process.

The campaign highlights the dedication and commitment of individuals—voters, political parties, Booth Level Officers (BLOs), ground staff, polling parties, administrative personnel, media professionals, central forces, and security personnel.

There are various other interesting features of the campaign, like ‘Chunaavi Kisse’ sharing interesting election stories from previous elections.

‘Sawal Jawab’ series to answer the most relevant questions related to the electoral process.

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The New Indian Express