Column: Signs of greater voter participation

Apr 17 2014, 02:29 IST
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SummaryIt is expected that there will be better voter turnout in 2014, the question is whether it will cross 1984’s record 64%

Will the high-decibel and multi-media election campaign of political parties, the swelling of the middle class voters and the involvement of the hitherto-aloof rich in electoral politics raise voter participation this summer? History shows that voter turnout varied between 56% and 62% over the near-two-decades between 1991 and 2009. This period has seen the fortunes of leading political parties reverse. It saw the return of the Congress in 1991 after being voted out by a young and popular Janata Dal a little over a year ago; it saw the rollout of liberalisation and its failure to win votes; it witnessed the power of the Rath Yatra, the Babri Masjid demolition, invocation of Ram and the longest tenure of a non-Congress government; a high-pitched India Shining campaign that failed and paved the path for the return of the Congress.

Through all of this, voter turnout never reached the peak level of nearly 64% it reached in 1984, after the assassination of Indira Gandhi. That was 30 years ago!

Voter turnout in the few states that have already gone to polls in the ongoing 2014 Lok Sabha elections was over 70%.In Nagaland and Tripura, the turnout was over 82%. This is not new; these states have always participated excellently in all elections. The big deal is the sharp increase in the voter turnout in Delhi. We will revert to this a little later. First, we highlight one interesting nugget discerned from the data provided by the Election Commission.

There is something about Communist-ruled states and the strength of voter turnout. States where Communist governments have ruled significantly, have systematically shown high voter turnout. The average voter turnout in West Bengal over the past two decades has been nearly 80%. In Kerala, the average is 73% (this is also the turnout in the elections held there last week) and in Tripura, it was 76%. These voter turnout rates are much higher than the 59% national average.

Possibly, it is the spread of awareness of the individuals' voting power through the Communist ideology in the hinterlands that made the big difference to voter turnout in these states. Kerala tops the country in terms of literacy; and Tripura also ranks high, but West Bengal's literacy rate is only average. So, literacy explains the behaviour only partly.

Of the major states, besides West Bengal and Kerala, Assam and Andhra Pradesh are enthusiastic voters too, with around 70% of the electorate casting

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