Urban apathy

It is ironical that those who lament about falling standards of political discourse and leadership prefer to stay away from voting

AuthorPublished: 13th Apr 2019  12:00 amUpdated: 12th Apr 2019  7:52 pm

Despite several initiatives and awareness campaigns, both by the government and civil society organisations, the polling in urban areas has been poor. The voter turnout in the twin cities was disappointing, to say the least. It is ironical that the sections of the urban elite, who are vociferous about the state of politics in the country and lament about falling standards of political discourse and leadership, prefer to stay away from voting. This is depressing because exercising one’s franchise is the only way to bring about a qualitative change in politics and the way the nation is governed. The pathetic turnout in Secunderabad (46.26%), Hyderabad (44.75%) and Malkajgiri (49.4%) reflects the apathy of urban voters, a majority of them appear to treat the polling day as just another holiday. It would be over-simplistic to attribute the poor polling to the voter fatigue on the ground that the Lok Sabha elections came just four months after the Assembly polls. It is also unjustified to cite the soaring mercury levels to explain away the voter indifference. Compared with the 2014 LS elections, there was nearly a drop of about 9 percentage points in voting in the twin cities. This was despite repeated appeals by leaders across the political spectrum to the people to exercise their democratic right. Amid such a depressing scenario, the first-time voters provided a glimmer of hope by coming out in large numbers to exercise their franchise in the city.

The low voter turnout in urban areas is an all-India phenomenon. This needs to be corrected with the help of a massive awareness drive by the Election Commission, government agencies and voluntary initiatives. It is imperative that the voter turnout in urban constituencies increases for better electoral outcomes in the country. India is rapidly urbanising and it is expected that by 2030, nearly half of the country’s population will be residing in urban areas. According to a study, the average voter turnout in 21 fully urban constituencies has been significantly below the national voter turnout average over the last five general elections, barring a few exceptions. There are those who argue for compulsory voting as an effective tool to tackle urban apathy. However, the Law Commission, in its report on electoral reforms, opined that introduction of compulsory voting was undesirable, undemocratic and difficult to implement. Automatic voter registration is an idea that is worth exploring to tackle the problem of low voter turnout, particularly among the youth. While voter registration may not necessarily translate into voter participation, there could be a strong link between increased voter registration and improvement in voter turnout. It can serve as a nudge to encourage electoral participation.