The Election Commission's drive to improve the poll percentage in the forthcoming elections in Uttar Pradesh may throw all political calculations haywire, making it all the more difficult to guess the results in a fierce, multi-cornered contest.
Imagine how all caste calculations would go awry if Allahabad North polled 60% votes in the 2012 polls, about 36% more than the 2007 polling percentage. Would it be feasible for the parties or the political analysts to make a rough guess of the winner? Perhaps not as, in all probability, the majority of the voters will either be first-timers or those who kept away from the polling booths earlier because of the electoral process or the candidates in the fray.
Though the Election Commission is making every effort to improve the polling percentage (46.23% in 2007), its prime areas of concern are the 100-odd assembly constituencies in the urban areas in which the polling percentage ranged from 24 to 35% in the 2007 elections.
Imagine candidates winning their seats with 17% of the votes polled. Experts describe this phenomenon as the 'rejection of all candidates' which, however, is a futile exercise till their votes get counted.
Political parties have rejected the right to reject. Former BJP national president Rajnath Singh and Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav firmly turned down the proposal to arm the common man with the 'right to reject' at the HT conclave in Lucknow with Singh suggesting that a candidate be declared elected only when he or she polled 50% plus one votes.
HOW TO SHORE UP THE NUMBERS?
The urban voters stand at the crossroads. Several students, while agreeing that they should exercise their right to franchise, say they don't find any party or candidate worthy of their votes. “Whom should I vote for? The same parties, the same candidate. Where is the choice? None impress or appeal to me," many of them say.
But then the youths don't know that their absence from the polling booth in urban areas doesn't even matter to the political parties in the state that draw the bulk of the seats in the rural areas.
Chander Prakash, a businessman, feels the voter ID-card should be given to a first-time voter on his 18th birthday to instill in him the urgency to vote if he or she actually wants a change.
Here is some disturbing data.
The 12-odd seats where the polling remained below 35% in 2007 were: Allahabad North, Lucknow West, Lucknow Central, Lucknow Cantonment, Agra West, Mughalsarai, Bareilly City, Varanasi South, Lucknow East, Varanasi Cantonment, Varanasi North and Ghaziabad. The literacy, as well as awareness level in all these constituencies, is much higher than other parts of the state.
Another depressing phenomenon that came to light in the 2007 polls was that only 30.27% women voted as against 39.99% men. Comparatively, in the rural areas, the voting percentage was better - 50.41% men and 43.27% women exercised their franchise.
Chief electoral officer, UP, Umesh Sinha is a worried man. Even political parties have urged him to increase the poll percentage, besides conducting free and fair elections.
Here's a look at the consequences of a low turnout. About 19 candidates, who polled 10%, and 139 candidates, who polled 15% of the total votes in their respective constituencies, were elected. And a majority of them fall in the urban areas.
Thus it was not without reason that Mulayam Singh Yadav told some youngsters at the HT UP First Conclave: “How many of you go to cast your vote? We want all of you to take active interest in politics.”
Ironically, 84% of the nearly 14,000 voters surveyed by Hindustan Times in Lucknow, Kanpur, Allahabad, Gorakhpur and Varanasi said they would vote in the forthcoming elections. Interestingly, about 80% of them were first- time voters.
WHY URBAN APATHY?
The political parties have disconnected from the people. The veterans recall that the elections used to be akin to a festival. “The parties and their campaigners used to visit every nook and corner of the city with bands and badges. Even children used to know the elections were round the corner. But now a near curfew-like situation prevails on the election day. There is a heavy restriction on vehicular movement. Worse still, you don't get to know your polling booth. I don't remember political parties coming home with the polling booth slips in the last two elections," Madan Lal Gupta, a resident of Kanpur, says.
Many youngsters in Lucknow want to know why there can't be online polling since technology has made such headway.
Chief minister Mayawati works overtime in ensuring that her supporters get to vote. Often she tells them, especially women: “Keep a fast and break it only after everyone in your area has cast his or her vote. Don't get disturbed on hearing some bad news. It could be a rumour” Decoding urban apathy, senior BSP leader Naresh Agarwal says: “Attracted by the greener pastures that cities offer, people are leaving their villages. Over the years, many have settled in cities like Lucknow, Varanasi and Ghaziabad. They have enrolled themselves as voters in their village, as well as the cities, thereby giving an inflated voter list. As they find elections more exciting in the villages, they go back home at that time. Second, some of the migrants don't return home to vote.” According to him, this migration from the rural areas to the urban areas, as well as other states, should be taken into account while analysing the voting pattern.
Former district magistrate RN Tripathi shares his 2007 experience. “I literally visited every home in the Vishwas Khand area of Gomti Nagar. The effort did pay off. Tthe voting percentage went up from 28 to 35%.” According to him, at least 40% of the voters are either dead or have left the city, but their names have not been struck off the voter list. What could be more shocking than the fact that Tripathi, who has been the district magistrate, could not find his own name on the voter list and had to return home without casting his ballot?
However, he is now confident that 60% of the electorate would vote in the 2012 election in his area. His confidence stems from the fact that the voter list has been updated and the election commission has promised to relax vehicular movement.
“As there is no public transport in our cities, a restriction on plying of personal cars becomes a major hindrance,” Tripathi says, adding that 8% to 10% of the electors will still not cast their vote as they are settled abroad.
Experts say poor voting in the urban areas is not restricted to Uttar Pradesh alone. It is a global phenomenon. The two foreign cities infamous for a poor turnout are stated to be London and New York.