Activists divided over making voting compulsory in city

  • Vaishnavi Vasudevan, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Nov 12, 2014 00:51 IST

Taking a cue from the Gujarat government, which has made voting in civic polls mandatory, citizens groups and political analysts are mulling whether such a ruling could be feasible for a metro city like Mumbai, which has always recorded poor voter turnout. While some feel awareness could be a better way of improving the turnout, others feel such compulsion could make people realize their responsibility.

In the state Assembly election held this October, only 51% voters from Mumbai cast their votes. In the general elections in April, the turnout in the city was 53%. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, the richest civic body in the country, went to polls last in 2012, but just 45% of registered voters turned up on the voting day. In 2007, too, the city’s voter turnout for civic elections was 46%.

“Citizens get a paid holiday so they can go out and vote. But if there is no improvement in the turnout, making voting compulsory seems to be the only option,” said Rajkumar Sharma, member, Action for Good Governance and Networking in India (AGNI).

Citizen groups said they have been putting maximum efforts to spread awareness. “The media, citizens, election commission and the government have done their best to encourage people to vote. The citizens lack the will to participate. I welcome the Gujarat government’s move and this must be implemented here too,” said Indrani Malkani, Trustee, Citizens Action Network, in south Mumbai.

Ajit Ranade, political analyst and founder of a not-for-profit Association of Democratic Reforms, said, “Imposing fines on citizens is technically not possible for a government. The state can’t force citizens to vote. Instead they should encourage them to vote through incentives. Also, other issues such as deletion of extra names from the voters’ list should be addressed.”
Milind Mhaske, project director, not-for-profit Praja, said, “There must be more awareness and education among citizens to participate in the election process. There should be a personal commitment.”

Last week, the Bombay high court (HC), too, had questioned the low turnouts in the city and asked the Centre if it had a policy to deal with those who did not vote.

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