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Monday, September 27, 2021

Cold water over the candles: Record voter turnout after Mumbai attack

As T-shirts flaunt No Votes, No Taxes, as placards shout All Politicians Are Terrorists, as talking heads on TV work up their anger...

Written by Vanditamishra | New Delhi |
December 5, 2008 1:30:12 am

As T-shirts flaunt No Votes, No Taxes, as placards shout All Politicians Are Terrorists, as talking heads on TV work up their anger over the “system,” here’s pouring some cold water on the fiery rage: voters in five states are evidently not listening. And even if they are, they are expressing themselves via something no protest can hold a candle to — their vote.

In Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir and in Mizoram, citizens were queuing up to choose their politicians. All five states went to polls after the terror strikes in Mumbai. Four recorded a higher than a 14-year average turnout. The fifth, Mizoram, was slightly lower than its average, but at over 70 per cent, its turnout was still the highest among the five. Madhya Pradesh exceeded its past record, in fact, setting a new one with a turnout of 69.31 per cent.

The facts, the figures:

According to the state’s chief electoral officer, Rajasthan today posted a voter turnout between 65 to 68 per cent. The average Assembly turnout in the state between 1989 and 2003, has been 60.4 per cent. Turnout has been steadily rising in Rajasthan since 1980. With the contest becoming more tightly bi-polar, and due to the competitive mobilization of lower caste, particularly OBC voters, by the Congress and BJP, it increased from 51.1 per cent in 1980 to 67.2 per cent in 2003. This election, it appears, will maintain this upward trend.

The Delhi turnout in this Assembly election ranges from 56.3 per cent on November 29 to 57.25 during repolling in three constituencies on December 1. Average turnout, here, 1989-2003, was 55.4 per cent.

Even in the famous “onion election” in Delhi in 1998, when the BJP lost power and Sheila Dikshit began her long innings, the turnout was only 49 per cent.

On November 27, Madhya Pradesh set a record with a turnout of 69.31 per cent. This is far higher than the average turnout in the state between 1989 and 2003, of 58.3 per cent.

It is even higher than the figure in 2003, when turnout leaped from 60.2 per cent in 1998 to 67.3 per cent in an election in which wave-like conditions had been created.

The 2003 election was MP’s “bijli-sadak-paani” election in which the two-term ruling party, the Digvijay Singh-led Congress, was reduced to only 39 seats.

The BJP secured 171 seats, a three-fourths majority, and a double-digit lead in terms of the popular vote over the Congress.

J&K continues to take everyone by surprise by the unprecedented and unexpected levels of polling in the third phase on November 30. Despite a boycott call, despite massive pro-separatist rallies barely months ago, turnout was 63.75 per cent in the first phase, 65.09 per cent in the second and rose to 68.22 per cent in the third.

Less surprisingly, Mizoram — a state that has traditionally had high levels of turnout and which at 79.4 per cent has the highest average turnout, 1989-2003 — has posted a 70 per cent plus turnout this time.

At the very least, these turnout percentages in states that went to polls after the Mumbai attacks underline the limited reach — and representativeness — of the ongoing anti-politician tirade. They also tell a heartening story about the country’s continuing engagement with the political process.

In fact, many have underestimated the nature of mass participation in elections in India. Over the years, it has defied the standard narratives in at least three ways: One, the turnout does not follow the global trend of a steady decline.

Two, turnout does not decrease as we go down the levels of democracy — that is, data shows that assembly and panchayat elections record higher levels of participation than national elections.

And three, data also shows that citizens at the lower ends of the social and economic hierarchy do not vote less than those at the top. The reverse is actually true in India.

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