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Politicians try to find meaning in high vote turnout in Assembly elections

BS Reporter  |  New Delhi 

Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) President Rajnath Singh expressed hope in close quarters that Mumbai will bring his party back in Delhi, when he was informed that polling in the capital, which started on a very slow note on 29 November, saw long queues of voters after channels announced that the security operations against the terrorists were over.

Even a week before the polls, Singh’s internal assessment was that their chief ministerial candidate Vijay Kumar Malhotra hasn’t been able to match the stature of Chief Minister Sheila Dixit. So, the party doesn’t have much chance in Delhi despite the BRT mess and other issues. The Delhi assembly elections recorded 63 per cent polling this year, a sharp 10 per cent rise from 2003 and even crossed the 61 per cent mark of 1993 when the party tasted a sweeping victory.

While Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi went to polls after the Mumbai attack, J&K, the everlasting political hotbed of India, had its first three phases of polls before the terrorists landed in Mumbai to siege the Taj and the Oberoi hotels. There too, voters stamped their record presence. On an average 69, 65 and 62 per cent votes were casted in the three phases in places, respectively, which did not cross even 50 per cent during past many elections. The voting time had to be extended by 30 minutes in many polling stations in Jammu and Kashmir.

Many political parties want to attribute the high poll percentage as an acknowledgement of their governance and events like the Mumbai terror attack. But Yogendra Yadav, co-director, Lokniti and Senior Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies CSDS, finds a larger, brighter picture of the Indian democracy.

He says, “this is very much in line with the robust nature of the Indian democracy, where people’s participation is on a rise even as the US and the European Union show participatory decline and more indifference of the voters.” Yadav also points out a sea change in the mindset of the voters. “During 70’s and 80’s, people used the assembly polls thinking about electing a Prime Minister. Now people vote in the Parliamentary elections as a referendum on the state government. The states have become the place for principal and primary loyalty. ”

Chhatisgarh, the state curved out of Madhya Pradesh in 2000 also witnessed polls before the Mumbai mayhem. And despite its challenging law and order conditions, the first phase of polls (which covered country’s worst Naxal affected area Dantewada) saw almost 55 per cent polls. Sixty eight per cent polls were cast in the second phase. While analysts believe that it is difficult to assess Chhataisgarh’s voting patterns as the state is newly born, they are pleasantly surprised to see the high polling in another troublesome state — J&K. “Frankly speaking, I didn’t expect such a high turn out in J&K. But I think after J M Lyngdoh arranged a free and fair poll in 2002, the residents feel they can really change their representatives through elections,” says Yadav. External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee is also happy to see high polling in J&K, where the Union government has always been accused of manipulating the results. “This will give more credibility to the elections in J&K,” he said. National Conference chief Omar Abdullah’s constituency, Ganderbal in Kashmir valley, saw 73 per cent polls. Last elections saw only 35.21 per cent voting in Ganderbal.

While in the J&K elections, almost all the parties campaigned on the issues of local development, Congress spokesman Manish Tiwari feels “during the last two years, our state government have done so much development works in the state that the locals n\ow feel the urge to support the political players.”

Mizoram, which is otherwise aloof from the mainstream politics of other parts of India, has registered almost as high as 70 per cent polling on 25 November. Rajasthan registered a polling rate of nearly 68 per cent according the Election Commission. Madhya Pradesh too, marginally increased its polling tally to 69 per cent this time.

As these elections were pitched as the semifinals for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, parties too left no stones unturned to mobilise the voters to go to polling booths in large numbers. But Yadav has another interesting observation behind the large percentage of polls. “During the last few years, the Election Commission has really worked hard to improve the voters lists. Many names have been deleted, starting with Bihar, where almost 200,000 names were deleted from the list during the last elections. The denominator or the voter base has become smaller, automatically increasing the polling rates.” By Monday afternoon, results will show what voters had in their minds when they came out in large numbers to vote in the five states. For J&K, its fate will be decided on 24 December.

First Published: Sun, December 07 2008. 00:00 IST