Around 7.5-50 million seasonal migrants could miss out on voting this Lok Sabha election. Although it is tough to arrive at an exact figure in this wide range, going by the average, a number equal to or more than the electorate of Jharkhand — which has 19.95 million voters — may not vote.
At this time of the year, they work as manual labourers away from home.
The figures were arrived at considering the 64th round of the National Sample Survey, which says there are 15 million short-term migrants, a 2009 UNDP paper which estimates 100 million ‘circular’ migrants and a 2011 survey by five NGOs that found 48 per cent respondents voted in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.
A UNDP study by Priya Deshingkar and Shaheen Akhter says seasonal migrants contribute 10 per cent to GDP.
In areas where agriculture is dependent on kharif, people leave in October and return before the rains, by June. “They migrate to quarries and so on. Many travel short distances to vote in panchayat elections. In Parliamentary elections most of them do not come back to vote,” said Ravi Srivastava of JNU’s Centre for Study of Regional Development.
A micro study by Rajasthan-based Aajeevika Bureau and four other NGOs across 15 sites in five states with 686 respondents validates this. Data revealed that 65 per cent of respondents voted in the last panchayat elections and 48 per cent in the last Lok Sabha elections. From Panchayat to Vidhan Sabha to Lok Sabha elections, participation dips 10.5 per cent at each step, notes the report ‘Political Inclusion of Seasonal Migrant Workers in India.’
The study notes, “The difference rises to 14 per cent when short distance movements were taken off the sample. In case of long distance movement, participation ranges from 59 per cent in panchayat election and 31 per cent in Lok Sabha elections.”
The report notes 54 per cent of respondents returned specifically to vote and 74 per cent voted for panchayat elections. In Jharkhand, from where migrants travel to states like Punjab and Gujarat, people returning to vote will be very less. “In places like West Bengal and Kerala, political parties give migrants incentives to return to vote. There has been no such effort in Jharkhand,” said Gopi Nath Ghosh of NGO Johar.