Lok Sabha Elections 2024: Voter Apathy Evident As Turnout In Phase 1 & 2 Underwhelming

Lok Sabha Elections 2024: Voter Apathy Evident As Turnout In Phase 1 & 2 Underwhelming

In the first phase, 65.5% of voters turned up at the polling booths, 4% lower than in 2019. In the second phase, the turnout fell further by 10%.

Manoj RamakrishnanUpdated: Tuesday, April 30, 2024, 11:52 PM IST
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Khar election event held on Sunday, April 28 | Manoj Ramakrishnan

Mumbai: After a record voter participation of 67.4% in the 2019 Parliamentary elections, the voter turnout in the first two of the six-phase 2024 general elections has been underwhelming. In the first phase, 65.5% of voters turned up at the polling booths, 4% lower than in 2019. In the second phase, the turnout fell further by 10%. 

Election watchers have assigned various reasons for the relative disinterest among voters: the scorching summer, school and college holidays when families travel, the absence of compelling national issues, and listless candidates.

Even during the relatively high voter participation in 2019, two constituencies in Mumbai were national laggards in voter turnout rates - Mumbai North Central, including Bandra, where only 53.58% of voters turned up at the polling booths, and Mumbai South, with some of the most expensive neighbourhoods in the country, like Malabar Hill, Cuffe Parade, and Marine Drive, where only 51.59% voted, the lowest among the six parliamentary constituencies from Mumbai.

What are the reasons why nearly half of the voters in these areas stayed away from the voting booths?In areas like Malabar Hill, where groups like VCAN (V Citizens Action Network), a public trust, have been working with the Election Commission to increase voters' participation, there has been apathy among the wealthy class, said Indrani Malkani, chairman, and managing trustee of VCAN. 

"People are not inclined to vote. You will not find that sort of apathy among the lower middle class and residents of slums," said Malkani who added that efforts by groups like VCAN have taken voting rates to above 50% from previous lows.

Adrian Rosario, a resident of Khar, said that the turnout at recent public events in Bandra and Khar to increase enthusiasm among voters has not been very encouraging. "This is the heart of the (North Central) constituency, but the turnout for the April 21 event was less than what we were expecting. People have a mindset that nothing will change and that if they want something they will get it anyway without voting," said Rosario.

Citizens also blamed lower participation among younger voters on the fact that many of them are not registered as voters. Suneel Bhatnagar, a resident of Nariman Point, which is a part of Mumbai South constituency, said, "This is an area where citizens are very involved in civic issues, but youngsters are not interested. There is no reason to explain why."
Others blamed the dates chosen for the election. "The election commission has the happy knack of prefixing or suffixing polling day with a weekend as is the case again. May and October are school vacation months when citizens take pre-planned vacations yet elections are declared in these months," said Lilian Pais, a Bandra resident.

In anticipation of a repeat of the poor voter participation in these areas when Mumbai votes on May 20, the Election Commission and citizens' groups are organising events to increase voter's interest in the election. On Sunday, a 'Walk to Vote' rally was held in Khar by Systematic Voters' Education and Electoral Participation (SVEEP), the Election Commission's programme for voter education and literacy. Popular singers, actors, and local community groups participated in the rally where citizens were asked to not leave the city on May 20.

"The number of participants was sizable. Apart from the celebrities, there were members of the local civic associations, the principal of National College, and residents," said Brian D'Souza who took part in the event. On April 21, the Election Commission collaborated with the Bombay Catholic Sabha to organise a 'Vote-athon', a run from Hill Road to Bandra Fort, to drum up enthusiasm for the elections. 

Kevin D'Souza, vice-president of the Sabha, who took part in the April 21 event, said that he is sad to see the apathy among voters in the area. "If people have no time or inclination to exercise a constitutional duty they should not complain about the state of affairs. I think a lot of people have got fed up with the system," said D'Souza.

There are hopes that the voting on May 20 will see an increased voter participation. Bhatnagar said that the new facility given to senior citizens to vote from their homes will improve voting rates, "There is a lot of change happening. People are expecting quite a lot from the local Members of Parliament and state assemblies," said Bhatnagar. Malkani said that the provision of more facilities to ferry wheelchair-bound citizens to the voting booths will boost voting rates. 

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