The Hindu

As against the 72.44% voter turnout in Karnataka during the 2018 Assembly elections, the four divisions in Bengaluru - BBMP South, North, Central, and Bengaluru Urban - had recorded around 55% polling

Apart from money power, urban apathy is another huge challenge that has been flagged by the Election Commission of India in the Karnataka elections. The lowest voter turnout in the State in the past elections has always been from the IT hub of Bengaluru.

Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Rajiv Kumar said as against the 72.44% voter turnout in Karnataka during the 2018 Assembly elections, the four divisions in Bengaluru  - BBMP South, North, Central and Bengaluru Urban - had recorded around 55% polling. Over 88% of the 8,615 polling stations in these four divisions (across the 28 Assembly constituencies) are in urban areas. 

In 2013 too, as against the 71.83% polling in the State, the IT hub had recorded 52.83% polling. In 2008, it was even worse at 47.3% in the four Bengaluru electoral divisions.

While the voting percentage in BBMP South was 55.04% in 2013, it further fell to 51.98% in 2018. In BBMP North, the voting percentage declined from 56.58 in 2013 to 53.47 in 2018. Likewise, in BBMP Central, the voting percentage dropped from 57.71 in 2013 to 55.18 in 2018. In Bengaluru Urban, it fell from 62.03% in 2013 to 57% in 2018.

“Apathy in the urban electorate is a trend observed in elections across the country. What is worrisome is that the voting percentage in urban areas has been decreasing over the years. It was seen in the States of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, which went to polls last year. In the 2019 general elections, the urban constituencies - Hyderabad, Patna Sahib, Secunderabad, Kalyan, Pune, Thane, Mumbai South, Kanpur, and Allahabad showed a similar trend,“ said Mr. Kumar.

Trend world over

Trilochan Sastry, professor at IIM Bangalore and founder of Association for Democratic Reforms, said low voter turnout in urban areas is a trend the world over. “Urban voters do not see any connection between their life and voting. They do not see any significant change in their lives even if the government changes. Besides, half of the urban population is floating,” he said.

‘Electhon’ till April 30

To tackle the issue, the Election Commission has taken up awareness activities such as electoral literacy clubs and voter awareness forums. It has also planned to leverage Bengaluru’s reputation as a knowledge and IT hub. In association with IISc, start-ups, educational institutions, and IT professionals, the EC has been conducting an ‘Electhon’ in the city. Over 2,000 youth are participating in the ‘Electhon’, which will go on till April 30. 

Manoj Kumar Meena, Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) for Karnataka, told The Hindu that teams of officials are visiting polling stations with the lowest turnout to interact with communities and find reasons for the poor participation.

“Better voting experience is one of the major strategies for improving the turnout,” he said. “A lot of outdoor awareness activities such as marathons, cyclothons, bikeathons, walkathons, and happy street events are also being planned over four weeks,” Mr. Meena added.

Midweek voting has a purpose

To avoid people from taking advantage of “voting day holiday” by clubbing it with the weekend, the Election Commission deliberately scheduled the elections on May 10, a Wednesday.

Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Rajiv Kumar said voting on a Wednesday will make it difficult for people to take a long holiday. “Had it been a Monday, it could have been combined with Saturday and Sunday, and had it been Tuesday, one could have gone out by taking a day off,” he said, adding that he hopes more people will come out to vote.

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