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"Take time to deliberate; but when the time for action arrives, stop thinking and go in."
- Napoleon Bonaparte

"Low Voter Turn Out" - No longer an urban aberration - It reflects nation's apathy towards 'Opportunistic Politics'

May-1st, The proverbial heartland of Indian democracy, UP polled just 45% in the 3rd phase of polls on 30th April. It seems that most politically active and significant state, which sends 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha, is slowly but steadily loosing interest in politics.

The high profile constituency of Lucknow voted just 34.5%. I spoke with few friends and family in Lucknow, who went to vote early fearing long queues but were surprised to see empty polling booths. Second largest city of UP, Kanpur voted just 39%.

The ssituation is same in neighboring Bihar where average polling in the first 3 phases has been 44%, 45% and 49% respectively. Compare this with average 58% in 2004 Lok Sabha elections. This is despite all round praise for Nitish Kumar who brought Bihar back on developmental map of the country.

Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat which went to poll on development & good governance agenda of their respective chief ministers too failed to excite the electorate with MP polling just 45% (48% in 2004) and Gujarat 50% (45% in 2004).

Maharashtra too is averaging 45% compared with 48% in 2004. Greater Bombay (10 seats) was 43.5%, even lower than 47.5% in 2004. This is really shocking given high decibel celebrity campaigns, voter awareness programs and emotionally charged environment post 26/11.

The above trend shows that in all large heartland states of the country, voters have lost interest in elections due to their apathy towards political class, which pursues corrupt and criminal brand of politics devoid of issues which concern the average citizen.

Political parties are responsible for this apathy as they field criminals and moneybags as their candidates, as these are supposedly winnable candidates. Party loyalists on their death bed are give tickets, sons and daughters of political families are other favorites apart from cine stars and venom spitting religious blokes. These worthy souls might win the election, but political class looses the respect and confidence of genuine voter who wants to believe in democracy and cares for the nation.

Current election distinctly lacks focus and debate on pressing national issues of worsening economy,crumbling infrastructure, security threats and most importantly governance and development.

Instead of educating and informing electorate about their manifesto and development agenda, political parties are busy snapping at their opponents and digging their past. They are more interested in highlighting what their opponents have not done, rather than discussing what they will do, if elected to power.

In my opinion, media is the biggest culprit, given that people expect them to be the voice of the civil society. In the race to garner TRP ratings, they have resorted to highlighting only sensational and meaningless issues.

Late evening talk shows (they call them debates) on national news channels have become a joke where anchor seems to believe that his decibel level is directly proportional to the TRP rating of his channel. Developmental and governance agenda is rarely discussed in the media, which is obsessed with quotable quotes from Varun, Priyanka, Maya and Modi.

Media has let civil society down and has completely failed in its responsibility to highlight pressing issues and force the debate among political class.

Low voter turnout is no longer an urban educated elite phenomenon, it is a reflection of all pervasive apathy of voters across the country towards political class. This is the biggest threat to our democracy which relies on the participation of the informed electorate to choose the best among available options. People have lost faith in the elections because they don't see any merit in the process.

Political parties need to work at the grass root level, engage with the civil society, grow their cadre and practice internal democracy if they want to regain the faith and confidence of the electorate.

Media too needs to introspect and stop insulting their viewers/readers by dishing out sensational and silly make-believe stories in the garb of the news.

RK

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