Voter turnout does not predict poll outcome - Hindustan Times
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Voter turnout does not predict poll outcome

May 13, 2024 12:48 AM IST

In the current election, is the low turnout an indication of a shift in voters’ trust?

The recently concluded third phase of the ongoing general election has reaffirmed a consistent trend: The Hindi heartland states, along with Maharashtra, continue to lag in participation in the grand festival of democracy. Why is this happening?

A voter's finger is marked with indelible ink after casting a ballot at a polling station during the third phase of voting for national elections in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India, on Tuesday, May 7, 2024. Voting kicks off in Prime Minister Narendra Modi�s home state of Gujarat in the third phase of India�s election Tuesday, with campaigning becoming increasingly acrimonious between the two main parties. (Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg) PREMIUM
A voter's finger is marked with indelible ink after casting a ballot at a polling station during the third phase of voting for national elections in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India, on Tuesday, May 7, 2024. Voting kicks off in Prime Minister Narendra Modi�s home state of Gujarat in the third phase of India�s election Tuesday, with campaigning becoming increasingly acrimonious between the two main parties. (Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg)

Let us examine this starting with Noida, a city in Gautam Buddha Nagar district of Uttar Pradesh, where I reside. By midday, the polling stations here were deserted. Only 53.63% of registered voters exercised their franchise in this recently populated, forward-looking metropolis. Women’s participation was also quite low, though literacy and self-reliance among women in Noida are greater than in the rest of the country. Noida was not alone; this was pretty much the situation throughout the country.

Why did they not carry out their democratic responsibility?

Election Commission of India data shows that only 66.14% of votes were cast in the first phase, and 66.71% in the second phase. Some blamed the excessive heat for the low voter turnout in the third phase, too, but that is far from reality. Statistics show that vote percentage had increased in the four general elections held between 2004 and 2019. The previous two elections showed a significant increase in this regard.

Fans of Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi credited him with this. When the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) announced Modi as its prime ministerial candidate in 2013, many were drawn to his oratory skills and the “Gujarat Model”. The saffron party won a simple majority for the first time. Modi repeated this in 2019. But now, given that the turnout was low in the first two phases, should the Opposition’s claims that his magic has diminished be considered true? Not at all.

According to a survey conducted by an English magazine shortly before the elections, Modi was the top choice of 52% of people. It also claimed that no one has been able to compete with Modi in the last decade. Many other surveys also made almost identical announcements. Besides, one other fact needs to be considered. Kerala, like North and West India, saw a lower turnout. The BJP is not anywhere in the primary contest there.

What could be the cause of this?

There are numerous explanations for this. One is the carelessness of certain members of the party, including MPs, leading to the revival of factors such as caste in the election. Modi had “bulldozed” caste boundaries in the last two elections. Another is the rapid formation and breaking of coalitions, and the preference given to leaders from the “outside”. It has broken party workers’ morale. Until the last election, these people had left no stone unturned to get voters to the polling booth.

The scenario is no different in other parties, too. The Opposition has not been able to forge a working alliance. Also, parties such as those led by Sharad Pawar and Uddhav Thackeray saw their rebel factions joining the National Democratic Alliance. Rahul Gandhi and his Congress party are now contesting the election on the shoulders of regional satraps. His Kanyakumari-to-Kashmir yatra, which ended early last year, made some ripples but failed to inspire the passion that the Congress requires.

Besides, some leaders’ alleged misconduct has also offended voters. Former PM HD Deve Gowda’s son HD Revanna and grandson Prajwal Revanna stand accused in a sex scandal. The Janata Dal (Secular) has ousted Prajwal and party leader HD Kumaraswamy has stated that if they are proven guilty by the SIT investigation, stricter measures will be taken. Further, incidents such as the last-minute withdrawal of a Congress candidate from Indore and the earlier cancellation of a Congress candidate’s nomination from Surat, as well as the withdrawal of other candidates, have harmed public trust in democracy. The huge amount of money recovered from a Jharkhand minister’s associates, as well as the poisonous language used by politicians, have also shaken the common man’s belief in democracy.

Political parties should take these issues seriously.

In the current election, is the low turnout an indication of a shift in voters’ trust? Answering this question is impossible as turnout does not determine success or defeat. Indira Gandhi returned to power with an overwhelming majority in 1971, despite a drop in voter turnout of about 6%. In the following election, in 1977, the vote share climbed by more than 5%, but she lost. We should also note that there was an improvement at the national level during the third phase. What is the guarantee that this trend will not gain further momentum?

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. The views expressed are personal.

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