Sameera Begum is eagerly waiting for April 10, the day tribal-dominated Seoni district in south Madhya Pradesh goes to poll. “I have received a personal invite from the collector. It explains why it is important to vote.... I have never voted before but this time I certainly will,” said the 33-year-old housewife emphatically.
Seoni doesn’t have an independent LS seat —its four constituencies are divided between Mandla and Balaghat districts —but there’s a lot of buzz around the elections, thanks to the effective implementation of the Election Commission’s (EC) Systematic Voters Education and Electoral Participation (SVEEP) plan.
“All registered voters like Sameera Begum have received invites and to ensure their participation, we have given those invites a traditional touch: ‘haldi’ and ‘kumkum’ dots have been put on the invitation slips, similar to wedding cards,” said Priyanaka Das, CEO, Zilla Panchayat, a 2009 batch IAS officer.
For the first time in the history of parliamentary elections, districts administrations across the country are using unconventional methods to reach out to voters.
Through the SVEEP plan, which comprises a range of policy initiatives and activities that aim to improve people’s participation in the electoral process, the EC wants to tackle problems like youth disconnect, urban apathy and push for ethical voting, and also inform the voters about registration, EPIC/identity proofs, timing of polls, location of polling booths etc and the latest button on the block, the NOTA.
The plan’s special focus is on women, first-time voters and uneducated residents of inaccessible and remote areas.
Every district has been asked to a situational analysis, reach out to excluded groups and collaborate with educational institutions, youth organisations, government media and civil society to spread the message. The thrust is on driving home the point that only by electing the right candidates, voters can ensure better laws and improved governance.
Besides the invitation cards, the Seoni administration, for example, is organising mehendi and rangoli camps with SVEEP as the central theme. Other districts are organising skits, roadshows and roping in public figures to encourage voters. In Jharkhand, some commercial establishments have promised to offer discounts to voters.
SVEEP was first rolled out in 2010 assembly elections and according to the EC, in the last three years, voter registration, especially among youth, has gone up from 10-15% to 30-35% and almost all assembly elections held since 2010, recorded high voter turnout with greater participation from youth and women. Seoni saw 5% rise in voter participation in the assembly elections in 2013 after the SVEEP plan was rolled out. “If the [SVEEP] campaign achieves universal coverage of the electorate it will be a great success for democracy,” a senior EC official told HT.