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No quick end to migrants’ woes in sight

Every election, bogus votes are polled at Kanaikhera village in Mahona assembly constituency (Lucknow).

india Updated: Dec 28, 2011 18:27 IST
Sunita Aron

Every election, bogus votes are polled at Kanaikhera village in Mahona assembly constituency (Lucknow). This is because hundreds who have left their home and hearth for a livelihood can’t return to vote. As a result, candidates manipulate to get their votes polled. Sometimes, they do so in connivance with the gram pradhan. “It (manipulation) has been easy in the absence of a photo ID-card,” Pawan Kumar, a Class 12 pass who runs a roadside shop, tells HT.

Noted journalist P Sainath was the first to bring the issue of political exclusion of seasonal migrant workers in India to public notice in 2005. He suggested that election timings be in sync with migration cycles.

With the variety in migration cycles, this doesn't sound like a realistic proposition. It would require reflection on what the possible strategies could be - Can it be resolved through a better voting infrastructure? Can the system of postal ballots be extended to the migrant community? Given the large numbers (100 million voters), it would require a very high level of scrutiny and also demand a large resource provisioning. Creating electoral and political literacy and awareness among migrant communities would also have to be undertaken alongside. “There is no provision for this and it has been a sore point for long. In a way, every migrant is excluded from voting unless they are present in the area where their votes are registered,” says Anil Bairwal of the Association for Democratic Reforms.
“Being a registered voter, by definition, implies stability, whereas migration or being a migrant implies mobility. There is a dichotomy between stability for voting and mobility for livelihood and the choice between voting and livelihood is obvious. The question, however, is whether people have to necessarily opt between the two,” asks Dr Jagdip Chhokar of the ADR.

Shalini Chaturvedi, Sahbhagi Shiksha Kendra, remarks: “The move is more pronounced in east UP where migration to Assam tea gardens had started way back in the 1940s. Thereafter, people started going to other states.

In panchayat elections, migrants' interest is at stake in terms of their family getting benefits at the local level. They come home during the Lok Sabha or assembly elections, not out of their willingness but when persuaded or compelled.

Political parties in east UP do send their agents and buses to bring voters especially, if there is a caste group involved but migrants are uninterested as they don't have any stakes. This can only be corrected by the political parties by including their developmental issues in their manifesto.”