Urban apathy? Metros grapple with poor voter turnouts | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

Urban apathy? Metros grapple with poor voter turnouts

Apr 22, 2024 04:40 AM IST

India’s major cities face low voter turnout in elections despite being hubs of progress. Efforts underway to boost participation and civic duty.

India’s major cities, often celebrated as vibrant hubs of diversity and progress, have consistently grappled with record-low voter turnouts across municipal, assembly and parliamentary elections. According to data from the Election Commission, a staggering 17 out of the 50 Lok Sabha constituencies with the lowest voter turnout nationwide in the 2019 elections were located in metropolitan cities or major urban centres. Follow full coverage of the Lok Sabha elections here.

According to data from the Election Commission, 17 out of 50 Lok Sabha seats with the lowest voter turnout in the 2019 elections polls were located in metropolitan cities. (HT Photo)
According to data from the Election Commission, 17 out of 50 Lok Sabha seats with the lowest voter turnout in the 2019 elections polls were located in metropolitan cities. (HT Photo)

Hyderabad, with a mere 44.84 percent voter turnout, ranked fourth on the list, trailing behind Anantnag, Srinagar and Baramulla, which had the lowest voter turnout percentages at 8.98, 14.43 and 34.60 percent, respectively. Other major cities, including Pune (49.89 percent), Mumbai South (51 percent) and Bangalore South (53.70 percent), also found themselves on this disconcerting list. Even cities like Kanpur, Allahabad, Lucknow and Nagpur failed to surpass the 55 percent mark in voter participation.

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Although parliamentary constituencies of Chennai and Delhi do not feature in the lowest list, New Delhi’s voter turnout—56.87 per cent—was hardly noteworthy.

But this year, Chennai, which has gone to polls for the ongoing Lok Sabha elections, showed it too suffered from the same problem. On April 19, Chennai’s three Lok Sabha constituencies recorded a lower turnout than in the previous three Lok Sabha elections. Chennai Central registered the lowest at 53.91%, against 58.75 % in 2019.

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Earlier in April, the Election Commission of India held a first-of-its-kind “Conference on Low Voter Turnout” with municipal commissioners from various cities, urging them to spearhead a movement aimed at motivating urban voters and instilling a renewed sense of civic duty.

Ronald Rose, the commissioner of the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation and district election officer, has set an ambitious goal of boosting voter turnout in Hyderabad by 10 percentage points. He identified several factors contributing to the city’s low voter participation, including general apathy, significant voter mobility due to work commitments, prioritisation of work by daily wage earners despite polling day being a holiday, discrepancies in electoral rolls and the dispersion of family members to different polling booths.

To tackle these challenges head-on, the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation has launched a multifaceted campaign. “We have identified approximately 2,000 polling booths with a dismal voter turnout of 50 percent or less,” Rose said. “Efforts have been made to address these challenges, including removing ineligible voters from the electoral rolls and relocating thousands of voters to resolve split voter issues.”

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The corporation’s efforts include door-to-door engagement with residents, targeted SMS campaigns using property taxpayer data, signature campaigns and flash mobs at malls to amplify voter awareness. These initiatives align with the Election Commission of India’s flagship program for voter education, known as the Systematic Voters’ Education and Electoral Participation (SVEEP).

“Municipal teams are on the city streets, knocking on doors, and holding dialogue with communities and industry bodies like FICCI in our pursuit to achieve a ten-percentage point increase in voter turnout,” said Rose. However, achieving this goal presents a challenge, considering that the Lok Sabha polls in Hyderabad are scheduled for May 13, amidst hot and humid conditions.

In Bengaluru, Tushar Giri Nath, the commissioner of the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), is leading the charge in voter awareness campaigns. The BBMP has collaborated with IT-BT companies to promote voting awareness among employees and has requested them to provide paid leave on polling day.

“Bengaluru has historically seen low voter turnout during elections, and we are trying to change that by creating a conducive environment through interacting with RWAs, using social media, organizing various events such as Cyclothons, padayatras, two-wheeler and three-wheeler rallies. This time, voter slips will also have QR codes that will give the location of the polling stations,” he said.

Civil society groups and resident welfare associations in Bengaluru are also working diligently to improve voter turnout. Vikram Rai, the president of the Bangalore Apartments’ Federation, emphasised the importance of educating apartment residents about converting their collective strength into political capital by registering as voters and organizing town hall meetings with politicians.

However, experts offer differing perspectives on the root causes of urban voter apathy.

Sudhanshu Kaushik, founder of Young India Foundation, a Delhi-based non-profit dedicated to increasing youth participation in electoral politics, said the major reason behind the low voter turnout in cities like Hyderabad, Pune, and Bangalore is that these cities have a significant population of students and young professionals, who are not registered as voters.

Prof Vivek Kumar from Jawaharlal Nehru University attributed it to the middle class having little stake in the government, while Sanjay Kumar, the co-director of Lokniti at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, argued that it is the poor working in the informal sector who face challenges in exercising their right to vote due to lack of leave and the inability to forgo a day’s wages.

“During our studies, we have found that it is the poor working in the informal sector—drivers, security guards, construction labourers, domestic workers, among others —who are unable to vote as they do not get leave and cannot forgo a day’s wages for voting,” he said.

As India’s big cities continue to grapple with low voter turnout, the collaborative efforts of the Election Commission, municipal corporations, civil society groups and resident welfare associations will need to remain unwavering.

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    Manoj Sharma is Metro Features Editor at Hindustan Times. He likes to pursue stories that otherwise fall through the cracks.

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