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Address urban voter apathy

Address urban voter apathy

Voter turnout in Bengaluru city has been consistently lower than the average voter turnout in the state. This seems to be a pan-India phenomenon.

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Last Updated : 23 April 2024, 23:09 IST
Last Updated : 23 April 2024, 23:09 IST
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The apathy of the urban voter during elections has been an issue of much intrigue. Voter turnout in urban centres such as Bengaluru has been pathetically low in many elections, both in the Assembly and the Lok Sabha. Non-voting is on the rise in India and even across Europe and advanced economies, possibly suggesting that often voters' voices go unheard and unheeded. Voter registration does not automatically translate into voter participation. This dilemma deserves a deeper analysis.

Voter turnout in Bengaluru city has been consistently lower than the average voter turnout in the state. This seems to be a pan-India phenomenon. Hence, it is not surprising that Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar has made an impassioned plea to urban voters to come out and vote in large numbers. He has pointed out that no booth in urban areas will be more than two kilometres from the home of an urban voter.

The Election Commission has made booth-specific, targeted interventions. Hence, low turnout in urban parliamentary constituencies has been identified for a region-specific outreach programme to enhance voter awareness. This has, ipso facto, meant putting into place a booth-wise action plan that is being implemented by the Election Commission. The Systematic Voter Education and Electoral Participation (SVEEP) programmes of the Commission in public spaces are being promoted.

The magnitude of the problem is reflected in the fact that in the 2019 parliamentary elections, almost 219 million eligible voters did not vote, and many of them were urbanites in urban parliamentary constituencies. Cities such as Bengaluru and Chennai represent a classic case of urban voter apathy. In both of these two cities, for example, when the average state voter turnout is around 72%, the urban voter turnout averages around 53%. The fact that these two cities also have a large floating population does not fully explain the general sense of apathy at the time of elections. Even in the 2023 Assembly elections in Karnataka, the voter turnout in Bengaluru was 53%, compared to the average Karnataka voter turnout of 73.19%.

The three Assembly segments known to have very low voter turnouts are Bommanahalli, C V Raman Nagar (42.10%), and BTM Layout (46.72%). Overall, Bengaluru recorded a voter turnout of 53% in the 2023 assembly elections, compared to 57% in 2018 and 63% in the 2013 Assembly elections. In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, Bangalore South, Bangalore Central, and Bangalore North parliamentary constituencies recorded the lowest voter turnout in the state. A similar pattern prevails in other urban centres across the country.

It is important to understand the root causes of urban voter apathy and address them. Some civil rights activists attribute this to errors in the voter list and the phenomenon of phantom voters. However, there are other factors, such as voter disillusionment with political parties, the candidates, the prevalent political culture, the electoral processes, and a perception that one’s vote does not ultimately count, which contribute to urban voter apathy. It has also to do with a sense of disinterest, a lack of motivation, and cynicism about all that is political. The fact is also that a large proportion of urban voters reflect a lack of interest in and knowledge about the political process and political system. Election fatigue, breaking of election pledges, sensationalism, and negative campaigning in the media also lead to this sense of powerlessness and disillusionment.

In Britain, those who do not vote are called the ‘unheard third’, who could significantly impact the outcome of an election. Many voters believe that politicians are “out for themselves." Hence, the level of ‘trust’ reposed in politicians has drastically come down. There is a need for mutual respect between the elector and the elected.

Urban voter apathy leads to a diminished sense of community and an overall decrease in levels of participation in civic and political affairs. The reasons for disengagement from the democratic process are many and have to be urgently addressed. Some of these include a lack of genuine choices, the weakening of democratic institutions and values, the problem of corruption in public life, broken promises, political scandals, unethical behaviour, cynicism, issues of representation and empowerment, and an overall disillusionment with political parties and ideologies.

Urban voter apathy has serious implications for any democracy. It is one of the strongest political trends globally, especially since the last quarter of the 20th century. It’s important to diagnose the root cause and work towards engaging and motivating urban voters to participate in the electoral process. It requires a collective effort by politicians, community leaders, educators, and, most importantly, the voters themselves. A vibrant, vigilant, and participative electorate is the cornerstone of any democracy.

(The writer is a professor in the Dept. of International Studies, Political Science and History, Christ (Deemed to be University), Bengaluru)

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