Chhattisgarhs turnout,in the shadow of the Maoist threat,has a heartening message for India.
As Chhattisgarh wound up the first phase of polling,across 18 constituencies of Bastar and Rajnandgaon,the affirmation rang loud and clear: even in a Maoist-created climate of intimidation,most people deeply value their vote. Hundreds of thousands of voters poured into polling booths to exercise their franchise. Even as a corrosive cynicism about politics seems to have become the fashion in metropolitan India,Chhattisgarh voters have sustained its turnout at a heartening 67 per cent.
The Maoists have,as expected,warned off people from voting,forbidding them to leave their homes. In 2008,there was rampant violence as they had looted 23 EVMs,killed nine policemen and a civilian and triggered explosions at 16 places. This time,there has been firing in many areas of rural Dantewada,one CRPF jawan was killed,and another injured in this clash. And yet,the number of voters has risen by 11 per cent in the area. This is a remarkable and rousing turnout,given the context,underlining that even in troubled regions,elections remain the constructive alternative to voice disaffections. Earlier this year,in a resolution that the Central Committee of the CPI (Maoist) drafted at its fourth meeting since the PWG and MCC merged to form the new party in September 2004,the Maoists admitted,for the first time,to their depleted strength. The movement is facing a critical situation,said the resolution,even as it acknowledged political losses after the abduction of the Malkangiri and Sukma collectors. Mondays turnout figures should give the Maoists yet more cause for sober reflection. For the Indian state,this should not encourage complacency,but remind it of the tremendous trust reposed in democratic solutions,and its duty to step up with a more responsive administration.
Unlike in the rest of the world,where voter turnout has steadily declined,Indians remain strongly engaged with electoral democracy. Data shows that this engagement remains robust at all levels in fact,assembly and panchayat elections routinely show greater participation than national polls. Even as those in more affluent or urban areas disregard these processes and voice their frustration with politics,most of India participates with enthusiasm,especially those who are lower on the social and economic ladder. These numbers,and the investment they show in political outcomes,should be a lesson for those middle class Indians who mistakenly imagine their anti-political sentiment to be a nationwide phenomenon.