The recently concluded Assembly elections in Assam confirm a 50-year trend of rising voter turnout. As many as 85 per cent of the electorate voted in the 2016 Assam elections which was the highest ever for the State. Traditionally, the north-eastern States have had a higher voter turnout in the Assembly elections than that in the rest of Indian States.
Analysing data of Assembly elections for all Indian States from 1961 to 2015, The Hindu found that of the 42 elections in which voter turnout was greater than 80 per cent, 31 were in the north-eastern States of Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Sikkim. Further, 52 of the 61 Assembly elections in these six States recorded a turnout of greater than 70 per cent.
‘Puzzling’ Speaking to The Hindu , Rahul Verma, a researcher who works with the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies’s (CSDS) election studies team, said: “It is puzzling that in the Northeast, high participation in the electoral process — which is a reflection of a healthy democracy — co-exists with armed insurgencies. Also, a strong pro-incumbent trend has been observed in the region.”
Assam has seen an increasing trend of voter turnout, rising from 52.8 per cent in 1962 to more than 70 per cent in all elections after 1985. In fact, in 1985, Assam witnessed a record turnout of 79.21 per cent — the second highest for the State — after recording the lowest-ever of 31.46 per cent in the previous elections in 1983. The BBC reported widespread violence in the run-up to the 1983 elections with students protesting against the inclusion of large numbers of illegal immigrants on voting lists. The turnout was low as militants warned the local people against voting.
Lower turnout The Hindi heartland has had a relatively lower turnout. In more than half of all elections conducted in Bihar, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Odisha, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, the turnout was less than 60 per cent. In Uttar Pradesh, less than 50 per cent of the electorate turned up for voting in five of the 14 Assembly elections. The turnout was less than 70 per cent in all elections conducted in the State.
Southern India lies in the middle in terms of turnout percentages. Kerala is the only State where all elections had a turnout greater than 70 per cent, whereas in Puducherry, 11 of the 12 elections crossed that mark. In more than half of all elections conducted in Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Goa and Andhra Pradesh, the turnout was between 60 per cent and 70 per cent.