Home >politics >policy >High voter turnout points to change in urban youth attitudes

New Delhi: The unprecedented voter turnout in the just-concluded assembly elections to five states could indicate growing political awareness among young Indians, cleaned-up electoral rolls and a desire for change, experts said.

Tens of millions turned up to vote in Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram and Rajasthan, smashing turnout records as the states reported a marginal increase in the number of urban voters.

While Delhi registered a turnout of 65.13%, a steep increase from 57.58% in 2008, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh recorded 75.2% and 72.66% turnouts, respectively. In Naxal-hit Chhattisgarh, an average of 77.32% of voters turned up to vote over two phases.

In the north-eastern state of Mizoram, turnout was the highest at 80.29%.

Political observers pointed to a change in the attitudes of the urban youth. Their approach to politics, said experts, has changed since the launch of anti-corruption movements across the country and the emergence of social media, both of which created a sense of rights and led the youth to demand greater accountability from political leaders.

However, the traditional view that a large number of voters reflects a vote against the incumbent government may turn out to be wrong this time around, going by the results of exit polls released on Wednesday night.

Regardless of the party in power, exit polls predicted a 4-0 sweep for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) when results are announced on Sunday for all states except Mizoram, whose outcome will be known on Monday.

Political scientists attribute the high percentage of votes to a desire for change, faith in elections, effective mobilization by political parties, growing awareness and civic traditions.

Delhi’s record participation was the result of the “new element" in the state election, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), an offshoot of the anti-graft movement led by social activist Anna Hazare, said Ramesh Ramanathan, co-founder of Janaagraha, a Bangalore-based not-for-profit organization that works on urban issues.

“The character of the debate (introduced by the AAP that focused on change) reflects political frustration and the aspirations of the polity. It brings about a new aspect of freshness in general. Associated with this is an awakening of political dimensions of all urban citizens," said Ramanathan.

He added that the urban citizen no longer wants to be seen as someone who shuns elections. Realizing that the agitation of the street will not mend a broken system, citizens have taken their political consciousness to the next level, Ramanathan said.

The awareness has been also been helped along by initiatives taken by the Election Commission (EC). Common to all five states that went to polls in November and December were awareness campaigns through big hoardings, public interest messages in the visual, audio and print media, text messages and messages on social media encouraging people to vote.

The EC’s initiative, called Systematic Voter Education and Electoral Participation (SVEEP), helped officials reach out to voters in remote villages and hamlets, both for updating electoral rolls as well as creating awareness.

“Higher voter turnout does not always mean higher number of people reaching polling booths—it’s just that the percentage is higher, not the number," said N. Bhaskara Rao, a New Delhi-based political analyst.

“The EC has taken some initiatives to tighten the list by updating the voters’ list and pruning it. Nevertheless, there is a marginal increase in the number too as the EC has made a lot of effort to make people come out and vote."

Experts said the number of youths coming to vote in the assembly polls has increased since the last general election.

With a dramatic shift in India’s demography, the number of young voters, especially those voting for the first time, has risen. According to the census of 2011, this number is nearly 149.36 million, which is about one-fifth of the total electorate of 725 million estimated by the EC.

These young adults would be anywhere between 18 and 23 years of age. Studies also show that nearly half of the country’s voters are between the ages of 18 and 35.

“I will ascribe a part of the reason (of high turnout) to new voters and young voters who have shown more interest in politics as opposed to the earlier indifference which was seen," said T.S. Krishnamurthy, a former chief election commissioner. He added that more urban voters coming out to vote may have been a factor. “It also depends on circumstances—like currently there is so much of an anti-establishment wave."

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