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Friday, April 17, 2009

Lok Sabha Elections - Voter Turnout

Every time there is an election in India, there is a lot of speculation and anxiety amidst the media and the of course the politicians about the voter turnout. This time there was more concern and expectations in view of the Mumbai attacks last year. However the first phase of the 2009 Lok Sabha elections kicked off yesterday with the same old story. Ultimately a voter turnout between 58 - 62% was recorded.

At the very outset of democracy in India, 45% voters turned up in 1952 which increased to 48% in 1957 and then 55% in 1962. Thereafter the voter turnout has hovered between 55-65%. Indian electorate i.e. the eligible voters above the age of 18, is 714 million. So a 60% turnout actually means that 285 million people do not vote and surprisingly no one is concerned.

The 40% people who do not participate in the electoral process are not lazy or incapable of walking to the nearest polling booth, but are people who have lost faith in the system. They are either not happy with the candidates who are fielded in the electoral battle or have been disappointed by successive "leaders" not delivering on issues which matter the most. These 40% people take the word politician as an adjective and that too in a negative manner. No wonder they do not vote.

The politicians do not want to tackle the issue of non-participation of the electorate in the process because they are pretty happy with the current system. If they do talk about it, someone might just start talking about the eligibility, responsibilty, method of election, form of government etc which they do not want.

People, read politicians, blame the electorate for not participating in the process but the truth is exactly the opposite. It is the politicians who do not participate with the electorate besides of course during the campaigning period. Once the elections are over, the electorate can forget the politicians elected and otherwise for a period of the next five years, the usual term for the government. How does one really expect peoiple to participate in the election process.

It is like a friend who meets one, once in five years and only when he/she is in need. Does one really care about such a friend? So, why should one care about a process which does not have anything in it for the him/her?

Another reason for the electorate to get disillusioned pretty fast may be the kind of Governance system we have. It is largely party oriented. Blame it on the politicians again for "educating" their electorate in such a manner over a period of sixty years. Here the contestant is not important, what is important is the party which he/she belongs to. As a result we have criminals, illiterates and generally useless people elected to office. Political parties market themselves as such and people think that putting a particular party in power will solve their woes. This never happens. It is the elected leaders who make the government and it is the elected leaders who take decisions. The party by itself is quite useless.

It is high time we started thinking locally about who we are electing for our constituency to work for us. The electorate should not even be thinking about what happens at the national level and which party forms the Government. They should elect a leader who is capable, professional in his job and who is passionate about doing something for his constituency. If we do this that would be enough for that particular constituency to develop and progress the way it should. If all constituencies elect their leader with the same logic, the Government at the Centre and the development and progress at the national level will take care of itself.

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