Urban local elections in India have historically witnessed a low voter turnout and the BBMP elections may not be an exception. Despite the ease of obtaining voting information from the internet, many people still prefer to wait for a long time to get it manually.
Low Voter Turnout
On the day of the BBMP elections (22nd August 2015), the Shantiniketan School ground, BTM Layout, at 10:30 in the morning was surprisingly empty. Potential voters could walk right into their polling booths and cast their vote without waiting in a long queue as would normally be the case in the state or general elections. There was no queue outside any of the polling booths. Other voters shared similar experiences from different wards in Bangalore.
It would be interesting to note the voter turnout percentage this time. Despite various campaigns by the government, various political parties and many businesses, voting turn out is set to be low. Media reports that voter turnout was about 10% until noon – 7.3 lakh persons voted out of 7.38 lakh registered voters. It would not be very surprising if it were significantly less than 50 percent by the end of the day, going by the past trends. In 2010, BBMP elections witnessed less than 45 percent turnout. Within Bangalore, the affluent areas have traditionally witnessed much lower turnout. In 2010, many affluent areas saw voting turnout percentages between 25 and 30.
It is a similar story in all the big cities – voter turnout has been dismal for the elections that has the most direct influence on a citizen’s life. Mumbai corporation elections witnessed 46% turnout, the same numbers for Hyderabad GHMC elections, Chennai – 48%, Delhi – less than 40%, Ahmedabad – 44%. [Link].
Language Problem and Importance of Symbols – Whitefield, the contentious part of Bangalore, saw many people complaining that the EVMs contained the candidates names only in Kannada and that they were unable to read the list of candidates. Thus, many supposedly walked out of the polling booth without registering a vote. [Source] While symbols help in recognition of candidates from the main parties, independents tend to get short changed.
It is quite common to see that there are numerous benches and desks occupied by different party workers outside the polling stations. These are usually mobbed by the potential voters to get their Ward no, serial number, polling booth, room number and their EPIC (Electors Photo Identity Card) number. One can go to these temporary stations with their name and a photo identity and the party workers will sift through many pages containing the entire ward’s electorate information and give the appropriate details. This is quite a labourious process and can potentially rob one’s enthusiasm to vote. The 2014 general elections for example in the same ward saw a waiting time of more than 20 minutes just to get this information and then wait in a separate queue to vote.
It is quite surprising that many people who have easy access to the internet still prefer to do this instead of going to the website and finding out the same details easily. The Election Commission has made this process extremely easy. Go to the relevant website (http://126.96.36.199/Searchbynames.aspx for the BBMP elections), key in name, father’s/husband’s name and the area name that you live in and all the details will be available.
Manifestos and Promises
Finally, it was slightly disturbing to read the manifestos and the general pitch of the candidates in my ward during this election. Many of the candidates do door to door campaigning and also leave behind a small booklet or a pamphlet. I have kept aside the manifestos of all the five candidates for BTM Layout and none of them really inspired me to cast my vote for them (most of them had grievous spelling and grammatical mistakes).
Some of the manifestos were too vague and general regarding their plans for the coming term – “I will work for the development of our ward”. Others centered around extremely specific work they have done and hope to do – “I have distributed x. number of sewing machines to the needy”. One candidate mentioned that he had solved many personal problems when I asked him about his achievements.
Unfortunately, the perceived purpose of the manifesto is not to inform the voter of any achievements or their grand vision and plans for the ward, but is meant to serve as a reminder of their photo and the election symbol.
Anupam Manur is a Policy Analyst at Takshashila Institution and tweets @anupammanur