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Elections and the city: Youth, middle classes drive change

Delhiites firmly shed the tag of ‘apathetic voters’ on Thursday with nearly 65% of the Capital turning out to vote.

india Updated: Apr 11, 2014 00:53 IST
Sidhartha Roy
Sidhartha Roy
Hindustan Times

Delhiites firmly shed the tag of ‘apathetic voters’ on Thursday with nearly 65% of the Capital turning out to vote.

The city that only managed a meagre 51.8% turnout in the last election clocked the highest voting percentage this time since it became a state in 1992.

Driving this charge are the middle classes and the youth, who have become politically aware, making the numbers swell. Proactive roles played by the election commission, coupled with massive social media outreach, have proved instrumental in bringing these classes to the polling booth.

Delhi’s rural pockets, urban villages and unauthorized colonies have always voted in large numbers but the inhabitants of posh south Delhi colonies are fast catching up.

The shift was first visible in last year’s assembly polls when turnout in areas like Greater Kailash, RK Puram and Defence Colony almost equalled that of rural areas.

Widespread anti-corruption agitations in the Capital in 2012 closely followed by the protests against the December 16 gang rape case brought thousands of Delhiites on the streets and changed the way elections were viewed. Constant media coverage of these political protests also played a key role.

“Delhi saw educational and demographic changes and people are now more aware thanks to mass media,” said Ravi Ranjan, a fellow at DU’s Developing Countries Research Centre.

Social media also formed a key connect with voters, especially the youth, explained Ranjan. “Earlier parties would publish and distribute manifestoes. Now they just put it up on websites for people to see,” he said.

The Delhi electoral office also played an important role, urging people to vote using advertisements on the radio, TV and print media, Ranjan said.

Before the 2014 polls, it tried to motivate voters through series of advertisements and promotional activities, apart from choosing popular figures to promote voting such as Virat Kohli, Soha Ali Khan and recently, stand-up comedian Kapil Sharma.

The electoral office has been on a voter awareness overdrive since the 2008 assembly election, when it launched its very popular ‘Pappu can’t vote saala’ campaign. The efforts bore fruit with the highest ever turnout figure of 66% in the 2013 assembly elections.

Ranjan says the civil society also plays a role with people ensuring that not only they vote themselves but others vote too. “There is a feeling that if everyone is voting, I must vote too,” he said.

Satbir Silas Bedi, former Chief Electoral Officer of Delhi said that the change has been in the making for the last five-six years. “There was persistent growth in the last few years as everyone wants to participate in the process of democracy,” she said.