The Telegraph
New Delhi

Her name means hope and the capital is hoping for change. After 14 months of waiting, Ranchi on Friday got its new mayor, the BJP-backed Asha Lakra, who won decisively against 13 rivals in the fray piggybacking on the Narendra Modi wave, despite a civic election where only 17 per cent of eligible citizens cast their votes.

Her win edging former scam-tainted mayor Rama Khalkho to a poor fourth, the sari-clad Asha (35) spoke humbly about her concern over the poor number of votes polled but promised to “win hearts” and convince non-voters to “believe in the system”.

Asha started smiling ever since the counting of the first round of polling at Pandra Bazar Samiti complex in Ratu declared her as leading at 9am on Friday. At 11.30pm, she had been declared the winner, bagging 31.8 per cent or 40,941 votes of the 1,28,709 votes polled in the city on June 23.

Though this is only 5.6 per cent of 7,26,352 eligible voters for mayoral polls in the capital, Asha defeated her nearest contender Navin Lakra by a margin of 14,969 votes, considerable under the circumstances.

In the backdrop of over 6 lakh people deciding not to vote, does Asha consider her win as “people’s mandate”? “The poor polling percentage is definitely a concern and it certainly does not reflect unanimous people’s choice. But, still I will say that people who came out to vote, though their number may be few, have belief in the democratic system,” she said.

Before the Vijay Juloos (victory parade) that culminated at Albert Ekka Chowk, where 18 ward councillors accompanied her, and before accepting congratulations from BJP seniors Arjun Munda and C.P. Singh, Asha added she now shoulders a bigger responsibility.

“I need to work to win hearts and make the non-believers believe in the system and believers take pride in the system,” she stressed.

Anil Kumar, deputy state election commissioner, however preferred to call it “a popular mandate”. “If you look back, even during last year municipal election, polling per cent was not too good, around 30 per cent only. So, if for 55 ward councillors only 30 per cent people voted and that was accepted as people’s choice, we have to welcome what happened now too.”

“The important thing is people stepped out to make their free choice. That’s why we call it popular mandate,” Kumar added.

Jagdeep S. Chokar, founder director of Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), a New Delhi-based organisation working across the nation for electoral reforms, however called the 17 per cent votes polled “alarming”.

“There must be local reasons due to which people refrained from voting. The reasons need to be ascertained. That’s why I cannot call it popular mandate. I have never heard of such low voter turnout. For a state capital, it is alarming,” he said over phone from New Delhi.

Stressing on the need to find out reasons why the majority of voters stayed at home, he said: “If this becomes a trend, it will be a threat to democracy.”

In Jharkhand, mayoral polls are more low-key than Lok Sabha or Vidhan Sabha elections. Not all candidates are backed by political parties. Even those who are, maintain a low profile.

Still, Chokar said the poor turnout needed closer look.

“A mayor a huge role in local administration. If a winner has received 5 per cent votes, it means there is something wrong with the larger population. We can’t excuse this as lack of interest.”

What is your personal wish list for mayor Asha Lakra?

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