Speaking up in numbers

May 18, 2016 01:58 am | Updated November 17, 2021 01:51 am IST

A long election season is finally coming to a close. Polling for elections to the legislative assemblies in >West Bengal , >Assam , >Kerala , >Tamil Nadu , and >Puducherry began on April 4, and concluded on May 16. A cluster of elections in States as far apart geographically as Kerala and Assam — and as varied in the ideological choices before the voters as West Bengal and Tamil Nadu — is bound to change the political landscape of the country. In the hiatus between polling and the counting on May 19, one message of the people of India already rings loud and clear: they have kept their date with the ballot at the voting booth. The voter turnout in some of the States that went to the polls this year is as high as 84.7 per cent, as in Assam, where it is nearly 9 percentage points more than it was in 2011. Similarly, based on provisional estimates from the Election Commission, Kerala’s turnout increased by 2.1 points to 77.4 per cent. Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and West Bengal may have suffered drops of 4.03, 2.1 and 1.9 percentage points respectively, but the registered turnouts of 74.3 per cent, 84.1 per cent and 82.8 per cent are quite high. This trend of rising participation in the democratic process is in tune with the pattern seen over the last decade or so. Certainly, voter interest has been enhanced because of the relative ease in polling brought about and other steps taken by the EC. These include an increase in the number of polling stations, the use of voter identification cards and photo electoral rolls, and a computerised system that allows for easier verification of residence. The EC’s outreach through various public officials and well-known personalities as part of its voter awareness programme has given voting a do-good aura. And the Commission’s regular updates of electoral rolls have taken off the list the names of people who have moved home, resulting in an increase in voting percentages.

Indian democracy occupies a unique position among parliamentary democracies, not only in terms of the scale of electioneering and overall participation but also the social inclusion that voting day witnesses. The enhanced participation of the poor and marginalised sections in the voting process in India is in contrast to that seen in many developed countries, such as the U.S., where gerrymandering and lack of documentation in effect disenfranchise them. Indeed, Indian voters speak of feeling special on polling day. Waves of electoral reform and the EC’s continued initiatives have simplified the voter registration process. But this special feeling draws from more than the administrative processes — at the voting booth, for that polling day, every Indian stands equal. Voters, especially those from the deprived segments, often speak of the self-affirmation they perceive on this day, when the Constitution’s promise of equality is tangible, however transiently. It is a reminder of the compact the state has with citizens, with those who have reposed faith in the system and in the leaders they elect.

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