All democracies worry about voter turnout during elections. In a system where people’s opinion is the essential part in government formation, lack of interest in the process among a significant number of the electorate is a major shortcoming. This is because, in the case of poor delivery of government services, this section of society is just as vociferous in its complaints as the others. It becomes a classic case of power without responsibility. Around the world, many ways have been used to get the electorate to vote, including making it legally mandatory. India, too, is plagued with this problem. In any other system, not utilising thirty percent of a resource would be considered serious inefficiency and corrective measures promptly taken.
Why don’t such a significant number of people exercise their franchise? In the old days, the poor and the oppressed were deliberately denied their right to vote. Today, almost everywhere in the country, the poor are the most eager participants and the shortfall is seen in the better off classes. It is believed that the middle class and rich do not think their voting makes a difference, while there is also the belief that they would benefit anyway whoever forms the government. They come out only when there is strong dissatisfaction with the incumbent, or some charismatic leader has the ability to draw them out. There is also the problem faced by those who live away from their native place and change homes frequently, particularly migrant labour. Sometimes their perspective on issues, because of the different problems they face, could be significantly different to that of those who do manage to vote. This naturally distorts the eventual mandate.
A more recent phenomenon is the cynical attitude among the younger generation towards democracy and political parties. This is fuelled partly by the disassociation in their daily lives with what is happening around them. Obsessed with making money, their careers and the pursuit of the pleasures modern life provides them, they are actually quite ignorant of ongoing events. They are happy to adopt attitudes that are popular on the social media sites they frequent, regardless of what they might personally experience if better engaged with real life politics. This means that the very persons otherwise best qualified to judge policies and politicians are the most disengaged. The country, as a result, is denied the input of its best and brightest.
Governments and the Election Commission have over the years been concerned about the problem and measures have been taken to set things right. Modern technology has had a great role to play and will do so increasingly in the future. The ultimate goal should be the convenience of casting one’s vote from wherever one is – also, being required legally to do so without fail.