Chaos over higher turnout amid voter name deletions

Apr 28, 2014, 06:50 IST | Ravikiran Deshmukh

Mumbaikars improved their track record of low voter turnout, though moderately, by thronging poll booths on April 24

Mumbaikars improved their track record of low voter turnout, though moderately, by thronging poll booths on April 24. Almost 53 per cent cast their votes.

A rise of 10 per cent in voting is being viewed as an achievement, with special efforts taken by the Election Commission through public awareness campaigns and advertisements.

But, the increased percentage becomes even more important if one takes into account the deletion of voters on a large scale.

Complaints are still pouring in, forcing the EC to apologise. It has also led to a debate on who could not vote, spurring a discussion on percentage of polling in particular areas.

While the BJP and the MNS have raised their voices over deletions from areas dominated by their supporters, the Congress and the NCP, whose support base lies in areas dominated by minorities and slum pockets, appear relatively restrained.

The deletion of voters, as claimed by BJP or MNS, is not restricted to Mumbai. In Pune, too, residents pointed out massive deletions from areas known to be dominated by BJP supporters.

Even a prominent leader from suburban Mumbai, who belongs to the ruling party, admitted that the deletions affected areas known as middle- and upper middle-class localities. In Kurla, he said, areas dominated by the Muslim community, or slum pockets, were not affected much.

EC officials, however, say CDs containing revised voter lists were handed over to political parties six months before the polls. Had the political parties raised objections about the deletions, some corrective measures would have been possible, they say.

Also, the onus lies on voters; appeals were made to them through the media, asking them to verify their names and other details, and contact the assembly area-wise voter help centres, in case of discrepancies. Those who did it could make corrections, but those who failed to do so are now protesting this has been the EC’s contention.

But, there are also voters who have not changed their residence in many years and have been voting. Hence, they saw no reason to verify their names. Their grievances cannot be termed baseless.

Now, in the face of such discussions come reports of voting percentages and its increase and decrease in particular areas. Reports say the voting was not up to the mark in areas where population of Muslims is higher. It is comparatively higher in areas dominated by other communities.

Such a comparison is unnecessary. Comparisons should also be done based on the figures of voters in 2009 and in 2014, where a number of deletions have taken place. It is significant in the context of 12.5 lakh deletions of names in Mumbai and Thane alone.

But, the comparison of percentages is unavoidable in present circumstances, as its genesis lies in the tone and tenor of campaigning that the Congress-led UPA and BJP-led NDA have been involved in. With Gujarat CM Narendra Modi leading the BJP, the Congress as a target was obvious.

The campaign centred on the much-hyped Gujarat model of development, against the backdrop of communal strife the state witnessed in 2002. Leaders of Congress and its allies in UPA stoked up Modi’s role as chief minister of Gujarat during the 2002 communal strife that saw several Muslims lose their lives.

It was expected from the Congress, as the party always finds its support base among Muslims and Dalits. In a bid to alienate the vote bank further, the thrust of the Congress attack was on Modi’s image.

Senior leader and NCP chief Sharad Pawar, too, during his public rallies, targeted Modi over his role and his decision to not to pay a visit to the residence of a former MP, where he was burnt alive along with a few family members. The UPA’s allies sharpened their attack, indicating that vulnerable groups of the society might feel insecure if a government led by Modi is voted to power.

Besides Muslims, the NCP and Congress leaders cautioned even Dalits over possible alienation. Against this backdrop, voting percentage should have been higher in areas dominated by Muslims and Dalits, but the figures released by the election authorities say it was higher in Malabar Hill, Mahim, Wadala, Byculla, Bandra (West), Vile Parle, Borivli, Mulund, Ghatkopar (East) areas predominant with communities other than Muslims and Dalits. It further increases the polarisation, making the battle for the six LS seats in Mumbai interesting.

The writer is Political Editor of mid-day

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