Urban apathy

Elections to state assemblies in Maharashtra, Haryana and Arunachal Pradesh have seen a respectable 66 per cent average voter turnout. Turnout in Arunachal was particularly heart-warming. Over 72 per cent showed up to exercise their franchise. By participating enthusiastically in the election, Arunchalis have reaffirmed their faith as Indians in a democracy. In doing so they have thumbed their nose at China, which in recent months has stepped up its territorial claims in Arunachal. The turnout in Haryana and Maharashtra has confirmed the urban-rural divide in this country. While rural voters came out in droves to the polling booths, urban voters were reluctant to vote. In Gadchiroli in Maharashtra 55 per cent of the voters showed up at the polling booth defying a Maoist call for a boycott of the polls. Gadchiroli was the scene of a deadly Maoist ambush last week that left 17 policemen dead only a week ago. But voters were not deterred by this or the violence on polling day. In neighbouring Gondia, which is a Maoist hotbed too, 68 per cent came out to vote.

But the people in Mumbai, Pune and Gurgaon did not have to vote in the shadow of Maoist guns. Still they did not show up at polling booths in sufficiently large numbers. While turnout was higher than in the recent general election, it was disappointing. Unlike their rural counterparts, voters in these cities did not summon the energy or find the time to exercise their franchise. In May, many blamed the scorching summer for their reluctance to vote. What was their excuse this time around?

Apathy in the urban electorate can be attributed in part to the poor quality of candidates that political parties put up. Voters feel that their representatives in state assemblies and parliament do little for the common man. This leaves them unenthused about participating in elections. Still voters need to realise that it is only through the ballot box that we can bring about change. The vote empowers us to determine who will represent us in parliament and the assembly. By not voting we are disempowering ourselves. Experience has taught people in Gadchiroli and Gondia the importance of democratic politics and the value of their vote. Educated, upper-class India needs to learn from them.

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