Awareness drives not drawing out enough urban electorate

The elation over Dakshina Kannada topping the State in voter turnout for the Lok Sabha elections on Thursday hides the wide divide between urban and rural electoral participation.

In the district, Sullia, which is arguably the most rural assembly constituency here, had registered 84.42 per cent polling, while Mangalore City South, the most urban constituency, languishes at the bottom of the table with 70.01 per cent.

Puttur and Bantwal, also rural constituencies, registered polling percentages above 80 with figures of 82.53 and 80.52, respectively.

The core of the city has in fact recorded a slightly lower percentage turnout than in the 2009 elections, while the largely agrarian constituencies of Moodbidri, Belthangady, Bantwal, Sullia and Puttur have marched up with a 2.3 per cent increase.

Longer distances

What must be remembered is that the average distance travelled by voters in the agrarian constituencies is far more than in the city. While forest dwellers in the Kudremukh National Park had to walk more than 5.5km to a booth, there were at least three polling stations in the nearly-one-kilometre distance between Marnamikatta and Bolar in the city.

The increased accessibility – from 1,138 polling stations in 2004 to 1,518 in 2009 and 1,766 in this round – seemed to have impacted only the rural areas.

Enthusiasm levels

As is the norm during most elections, the enthusiasm was far more apparent in rural areas. While around noon a few booths in Ullal had seen less than 40 per cent voting – with the correspondent even finding that houses in the vicinity of the booth had not voted – the polling had touched 60 per cent in Sajipanadu in Bantwal taluk around the same time.

“Around noon, the anganwadi workers have a rough estimate on who has not voted. Word spreads and the non-voters are encouraged to go out to the booths,” said a polling worker at Sajipanadu.

As in the past, officials have admitted that the Systematic Voters’ Education And Electoral Participation (SVEEP) programmes “worked” better in rural areas, compared to urban areas; while district officials believed the string of holidays around the elections would impact voting in urban areas where families are more likely to go out of the district.

‘AAP hype did not work’

Jayaraj Amin, Professor, Department of Political Science, Mangalore University, expressed surprise that “political waves” – especially that of Aam Aadmi Party – had not resulted in higher urban voting percentages.

“There was hype around it, and it addressed the middle-class apathy around ‘all candidates are the same’. Politics had taken a less negative connotation this year…This seemed to have attracted the younger voters, but not had much of an impact on the middle-class who think of it as too much trouble or that the day off can be better utilised,” he said.

He believed the active participation of local party cadre this elections led to a better participation in rural areas, where, there was “still an emotional attachment to elections and the electoral system”.

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