Wooing female voters seems to be a concern for election commission officials in Amreli, a parliamentary constituency that shares its borders with the famous Gir sanctuary. It recorded the “lowest (one-third) turnout of female electorates” during the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. During the past few weeks, the district administration has been busy in running door-to-door campaigns, trying to cajole women voters to come out and vote.
Amreli has been battling poor sex ratio and currently has almost 7 lakh female voters. In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, Amreli had 6.37 lakh female voters. However, only 33.5 per cent of them voted. This is not only lower than the state average for female voter turnout (43.3 percent), but is way behind a parliamentary constituency like Bardoli (south Gujarat) which recorded the highest turnout of women voters at 55.5 per cent in 2009.
“Our main focus is on the 14 villages in the district where the turnout of female voters has been less than 10 per cent. These villages fall in Dhari (4 villages), Lathi (1), Savarkundla (6) and Rajula (3) Assembly constituencies,” says Bacchusinh V Kotad, an election commission official and the deputy District Development Officer (DDO), who is playing an active role in bringing back female voters to the polling booths.
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“The voting percentages for the Lok Sabha elections are always on a low side. However, we are doing out best to increase the turnout, especially of female voters. We are taking the help of women connected with self-help groups and those associated with the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) to reach out to women in the district,” Kotad said. He added that the help of some leaders of religious sects like Swaminarayan is also being sought to address the problem. “We are also organising special awareness meetings in each taluka. We have already held 14 such meetings so far,” said Kotad, who spearheaded five meetings. The district administration has also used banners and posters to take the message to individual homes and voters.
In the recent past, voting percentages of women voters has not been so impressive in Amreli, which has seen the lowest decadal growth of female population in Gujarat (7.31 percent) and a sliding sex ratio (964 women to every 1,000 men) as per the 2011 census.
If the voting percentages of the 2012 Assembly elections in Gujarat are taken in to account, women turnout in Amreli was as high as 63 per cent. However, when compared to women turnout in other districts, Amreli not only finished at the bottom of the table, but was also below the average female voter turnout of 70 per cent in the state.
When contacted, district collector Ajay Kumar skirted the question, saying that he cannot talk over the phone on the issue. However, sitting BJP Member of Parliament from Amreli, Naran Kachhadiya, says, “Last time, the poor turnout was because of the intense summer heat during the elections. Moreover, there were some festivities of Patels and Koli communities that coincided with the election dates.”
Kachhadiya, who is also the BJP’s candidate for the upcoming polls and has been holding road shows in the district, says, “There are over 800 villages in my region. This time, we are asking voters to come out in large numbers.”
A well-known sociologist and an expert on women studies at Gujarat University, Gaurang Jani, says a large section of women belonging to the Patel and Koli community dominate the region. These women lack education and awareness about their basic rights, he says. “The women in this region are caught in a time warp. It is a contradiction of sorts because, Amreli was the place where Sayajirao Gaekwad introduced compulsory education for the first time in the late 19th century,” Jani said, adding that majority of Amreli is rural.
DEO launches programme for better turnout
In order to prompt voters to come out in large numbers on April 30, the District Election Officer of Vadodara launched its “Maximum Voting Percentage” programme on Tuesday. Vadodara district is undertaking a voters’ awareness programme at a micro level under the Election Commission of India’s Systematic Voters’ Education for Electoral Participation (SVEEP) programme.
The “Mission 90%” has now been turned into a “Maximum Voting Percentage” programme under which the district aims to reach out to over 22.5 lakh voters in the ten Assembly constituencies of Vadodara district by utilising the services of the Booth-Level Officers (BLOs). On Tuesday, District Election Officer Dr Vinod Rao, in a seminar with BLOs, stressed on the three- phase campaign to encourage voters, including a door-to-door contact with voters. The “Sankalp Patras” will also be distributed to families by April 10.
Rao said, “The first phase includes the distribution of the Sankalp Patra by April 10. By April 15, BLOs will be required to collect the filled Sankalp Patra, duly signed by each voting member of a family. In the third phase, the BLO will once again reach out to the voters for distribution of photo voter slip and an appeal letter from district election officer to exercise their franchise. Booth level officers can play a significant role in the election management as they are the stakeholders who can bring about a major change and encourage people to cast their vote by their dedicated field work.”