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Hidden in Himachal’s highest turnout figure, a story of urban voter apathy

Hill state improves poll percentage to 75.6 over 2017’s 75.1, but urban areas, led by Shimla, record poor turnout

Voters holding their identification cards wait in a queue to cast their votes for the Himachal Pradesh Assembly elections, in Kullu, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022. (PTI Photo)

Himachal Pradesh recorded its highest voter turnout of 75.6 per cent during the November 12 Assembly polls — marginally higher than 75.5 per cent in the last elections and 73 per cent in 2012 — with the Election Commission saying that the figure would have been much higher but for the lack of enthusiasm on part of electors in the urban areas of the hill state.

“Despite all efforts, urban apathy in Himachal Pradesh has again dampened the figure. Though 75.6 per cent voter turnout is the highest till now for the state, higher participation from urban areas could have helped achieve a higher record-breaking turnout. The voter turnout in Shimla is not only lowest in the state (62.53 per cent) but has actually declined by 1.4 per cent than the last election,” the poll panel Monday said.

In Shimla, Solan, Kasumpti and Dharamshala, the voter turnout was less than 70 per cent, it said, adding had electors in these areas stepped out this time with equal zeal, the voting percentage record could have been much higher.

The average turnout in important urban areas was approximately eight per cent lower than the turnout in rural constituencies, it said adding that the average voter turnout in 85 polling stations set up above 10000 ft is close to state average.

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Tashigang, the world’s highest polling booth at 15,265 feet, recorded 100 per cent polling, while Chasak Bhatori in Bharmaur Assembly seat in Chamba recorded a turnout of 75.26 per cent despite the polling booth being located 14 kilometres away and at a height of 11,948 feet, it said.

Meanwhile. State Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Maneesh Garg said 74.6 per cent of the votes were polled using Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) while the rest came through postal ballots. Almost two per cent of postal ballots are yet to be received, according to Garg. Women (76.8 per cent) outvoted men (72.4 per cent). The turnout of the people of the third gender was 68.4 per cent.

The highest polling percentage of 85.25 per cent was reported from the constituency of Doon in Solan district while Shimla Urban recorded the lowest turnout at 62.53 per cent. The BJP fielded Sanjay Sood after shifting four-time MLA Suresh Bharadwaj to Kasumpti in Shimla district against two-time Congress MLA Anirudh Singh. Sood, 57, has been running a newspaper and tea stall at the old bus stand for years to earn his family’s keep. He made his poll debut against the Congress’s Harish Janartha. In Doon, the BJP fielded incumbent MLA Paramjit Singh Pammi against the Congress’s Ram Kumar. Pammi is a former Congress worker who joined the BJP in December 2016 a month after he was denied a ticket for the 2017 polls.

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The EC attributed the high turnout to its SVEEP (Systematic Voters’ Education and Electoral Participation) programme and voter awareness activities under its unique UTSAV (Universal Transparent Elections through Systematic Awareness of Voters) and a special focus on 11 Assembly constituencies. In nine of the 11 seats, voter turnout increased by 11 per cent compared to 2017.

These increases are not inclusive of the expected increase in postal ballots. The CEO said the EC during its visit to the state had guided the state authorities in their attempts to focus on Assembly constituencies with low voter turnouts.

The poll panel has set up strong rooms with a three-tier security system and the scrutiny of these safety measures was completed in the presence of ECI observers, candidates or their representatives, and Returning Officers (ROs).

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Almost 240 flying squads were assigned to all 68 Assembly seats, besides 242 static surveillance teams, 75 assistant expenditure observers, 166 video surveillance teams, 72 video viewing teams, 73 accounting teams, 53 complaint monitoring control rooms, and call centres at various officer levels. Nearly 3,600 personnel were deployed in the above expenditure monitoring teams.

The CEO further said 1,779 complaints were received in this period. The commission closed 292 complaints after inquiry and corrective action and compliance were carried out in 1,308 such complaints. Out of these, 1,013 complaints were received over the C-Vigil app through which 861 complaints were resolved.

Asked about the high voting percentage, Professor Sanjay Kumar, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, said, “It would be premature to comment (anything) on the basis of voter turnout. We have seen in the past elections that there has been a high turnout and governments have been re-elected. Himachal has had a trend of high voting and even then governments have alternated”.

Himachal Pradesh had started its electoral journey with assembly elections in 1951, when a voter turnout of 25.16 per cent was recorded. The voter turnout has shown a steady upward trend in the subsequent elections.

Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar has been working continuously to address the issue of urban and youth apathy. Kumar has been urging state chief electoral officers to identify low voter turnout seats and polling stations to ensure targeted interventions to raise awareness and break the stranglehold of urban apathy by reaching out to voters.

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To focus attention on urban apathy, the EC has advocated establishing voter awareness forums in organisations — both private and government — to highlight the significance of voting and motivating urban working citizens to come out and vote.

WITH PTI

First published on: 15-11-2022 at 07:35 IST
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