Observing that urban voter “apathy” continues across the country, as evidenced from Shimla to Surat, the two states that went to the Assembly polls in this round, the Election Commission of India (ECI) on Saturday appealed voters of Gujarat to come out in large numbers in the second phase of polling on Monday to compensate for low voting in the first phase.
The ECI’s appeal came in the wake of low turnout in urban constituencies of 89 seats that voted in the first phase on Thursday — 93 constituencies will vote in the second phase on Monday.
In a statement, the poll panel said, “Major cities/urban areas of Gujarat have not only recorded decline in voting percentage as compared to 2017 but have also voted much less than the state average of 63.3%. Decline in Rajkot West is very sharp at 10.56% .”
Noting that 2017 Gujarat elections recorded 66.79% voting in first phase, ECI stated, “Had the voting percentage in these constituencies been even equal to the level of even their own voting percentage in 2017, the state average would have been more than 65%.”
The panel noted that Surat, Rajkot and Jamnagar recorded turnout lower than the state average in the first phase.
“While voting percentage increased in many constituencies, the average turnout figure is dampened by urban apathy, just as during recently concluded election to the Assembly of Himachal Pradesh, the urban constituency of Shimla recorded the lowest (turnout) at 62.53% (down by 13 percentage points) as against the state average of 75.6%,” the ECI stated. “Gujarat cities have shown a similar urban apathy trend (in first phase).”
According to the Commission, at 47.86%, Gandhidham seat in Kuchchh district, which has industrial establishments, recorded the lowest voting percentage — a decline of 6.34% over 2017. The second lowest voting was Karanj in Surat, 5.37% down from its own low of 55.91% in 2017, it stated.
Noting the voter “turnout figures with concern”, ECI stated, Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar has appealed to the voters of Gujarat to come out in large numbers during the second phase to compensate for low voting in the first phase. “The possibility of surpassing 2017 voting percentage now lies in their increased participation only,” the statement said.
The ECI also highlighted the gap in rural and urban turnout: “There is a conspicuous gap in voting turnout between rural and urban constituencies. The gap of voter turnout is as wide as 34.85% if it is compared in the rural constituency of Dediapada in Narmada district, which recorded 82.71%, and that in urban Gandhidham in Kuchchh district, which witnessed 47.86% voter turnout. Also, average turnout in important urban areas is lower than turnout in rural constituencies.”
“Within many districts, rural constituencies have voted much more than urban constituencies of the same district. For example, in Rajkot, there is a decline in all urban constituencies,” the panel stated.
Similarly, it stated, voting percentage was more in Surat rural constituencies than urban ones. It noted that the difference between the urban seat with the lowest turnout in Surat and that of the rural constituency with highest voting is as much as 25%. The ECI stated that all 26 seats that recorded more than 65% voting were in rural Gujarat, and not one urban constituency crossed the mark of 65% voting.
To address this trend of urban voter apathy, the panel stated, the Commission has directed all chief electoral officers to identify constituencies and polling stations that recorded low turnout to ensure “targeted awareness interventions to increase voting percentage”.
To overcome this apathy, Chief Election Commissioner Kumar and Election Commissioner Anup Chandra Pandey had held interaction with nodal officers of more than 200 voter awareness forums from various industrial units in Pune, which recorded one of the lowest voting percentages among Parliamentary constituencies in 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the ECI stated.