The average ten to fifteen percent higher polling for
the present assembly elections as compared to the 2009 Lok Sabha elections has brought smiles to the faces of the Election Commission officials, but the increase is not so significant as compared to the 2007 assembly polls. In many areas it is the same, while there is an average increase by three or four percent in others. The really encouraging factor is that the weather held out and the people did not use the cold conditions as an excuse to opt out. It is understandable that people vote in larger numbers for the assembly elections as compared to those for the Lok Sabha and it indicates the difference, for the electorate, in the focus of both formats. Clearly, local issues motivate an extra ten to fifteen percent of people to participate, while the happenings at the Centre are not so immediate for this section of society. Political scientists and psephologists need to study this phenomenon in greater depth to arrive at the specific reasons.
It is clear, therefore, that those who are claiming the ‘increase’ in turnout is indicative of some ‘anti-incumbency’ wave are somewhat off the mark. There are some areas that have traditionally had a high turnout, possibly because of it being easier to mobilise voters on caste and community lines. It can be safely said that it is in urban areas where ‘political’ affiliations count as much, if not more, than these factors. This leads to a lower voting percentage as ‘politics’ certainly is not such a galvanising factor. The well to do sections in Dehradun, for instance, have clout with all the major parties and it matters little which one comes to power. Their work gets done. And, anyway, if all party governments will have to be ‘paid’ for rendering their services, why spoil a perfectly good day standing in the queue at the polling station?
It is the people whose work normally doesn’t get done who would appreciate even a marginal improvement in governance, or even the promise of it. So it is that urban areas in Dehradun averaged between 60 and 63 percent polling. Going by traditional Indian averages, it is a considerable improvement and shows the increased involvement of civil society in matters of governance. The important thing, of course, would be the choices that will have been made, particularly in the context of the much spoken of ‘Anna Factor’. Did the people weigh the issues differently this time? Was greater importance given to the common good as distinct from ‘personal’ affiliations? What was the basis on which ‘good’ candidates were differentiated from the ‘bad’? Pre-poll surveys of all sections of society had most reeling out the usual ‘qualities’ they wanted in their leaders, such as honesty and ability, etc., but considering these are mostly relative, what was the benchmark applied?
What did they do if they found, for instance, the ‘usual suspects’ to be short of these qualities? Did they ‘waste’ their votes on candidates unlikely to win (going by traditional wisdom) just to make a point? Or, was the feeling of angst enough to actually bring some ‘outsider’ into the game? It would be wonderful if the people could occasionally emphasise their sovereignty over the political system by serving up occasional reminders of the absolute power they can exercise by raising up one or demolishing another. A glimpse of this was visible in the extraordinary number of votes Rajni Rawat had got in Doon during an earlier election. Could they have found even more potent symbols of their power this time around?
One would dare to hope this has been the case!