For a democracy to be successful, it’s presumed that nearly all of its beneficiaries, if not all of them, participate in the most important process of them all…elections! While it was fashionable to display an inked finger following a successful visit to the booth on the opportune day, most in Mumbai were ‘shocked’ to find their names struck off the electoral roles or simply ‘absent’ as if they didn’t exist.
And, although the polling was nearly 52 per cent, much better than last elections in 2009, the participation could have been a lot better. Almost everyone who was ‘deprived’ of his / her right to exercise franchise, shot off mailers even offered sound bytes to channels milking the ‘controversy’ dry.
Needless to say, 2014 wasn’t exactly unique in that context. Every elections, there’re those who vote and display their inked fingers and those who simply couldn’t, because their names were struck off the rolls. What is exasperating is the manner in which news of names being ‘struck off the rolls’ has been making appearances all over as if to insinuate a ploy of sorts to exclude a section of voters.
Now, consider this: The electoral population, with an increase of 100 million newly eligible voters since the last general elections in 2009, stands at 814.5 million this year making it the largest in the world. At INR 3,500 crore as estimated by the Election Commission of India, 2014 will be the longest and the most expensive general election in the history of India. And, this excludes expenses incurred for security and individual political parties which are, according to the Centre for Media Studies, expected to spend INR 30,500 crore in the election. A little bit of confusion is bound to occur as an expected by-product.
In Thane district, the Election Commission (EC) deleted the names of as many as 6.7 lakh voters over the past 18 months as part of its drive to remove duplicate entries from the voters’ list.
If you find your name in the dead or deleted voter list, carry your photo identity, sign an affidavit stating that you are alive and residing in that area and cast your vote, read a message that did the rounds through social media channels on voting day.
Nearly 300,000 voters were deleted from voter lists owing to a ‘clean up’ operation by the Election Commission. According to Election Commission data, 1,50,000 voters’ names were added to the voter list in Mumbai for the 1999 Lok Sabha elections through the 1998 elections. But, 27,000 voters’ names were deleted for the subsequent 2004 election and, miraculously, 4,50,000 voters’ names were added back for the 2009 election. The drive to ‘clean up’ the list was aimed to rectify an issue of ‘duplication.’
Till September 2013, in weeding out duplicate entries and names of deceased voters from the Voters List in the state, the Election Commission of India (ECI) deleted names of 38,51,294 lakh voters from the list. The maximum number of names of voters being deleted was 66,283 from Solapur City Central assembly constituency while the least number of names of voters deleted was 63 from Warora assembly constituency. In Mumbai, the maximum names of such voters deleted are 32,704 from Dharavi (SC) assembly constituency, followed by 31,384 in Byculla.
The drive followed complaints about the overall voters list in the state almost matching the overall population of the state. The Election Commission decided to weed out names of those voters who had enrolled their names in more than one assembly segment or had changed their place of usual residence and the deceased. Intriguingly, in the 12 Assembly constituencies in Pune division alone, the Election Commission had to delete 6.61 lakh names in all.
The Election Commission had provided ways to ascertain if one’s name was in the voter’s list or not. A prospective voter could visit the home page of the website of the respective State or use an SMS facility to check details. That most websites didn’t function was a given, considering it was some Babu’s task to ensure it functions. There was a representative of the Election Commission who would drop by to each home and provide a slip with voting details. If he didn’t come by one’s home before the elections, the onus would fall upon the prospective voter to check if his / her name was deleted from the list or not.
The issue of duplicity of names had been raised fervently by the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress Party before the Election Commission for months before the elections. Duplicity of names creates serious issues that would warrant an equally shrill cry for re-polls just as in the present-day event of potential voters’ names being missed out altogether.
According to the Election Commission, the onus of checking whether one’s name is in the voters’ list or not, rests upon each and every individual. An inability to do that and a concurrent failure to cast one’s vote despite having “travelled for miles on end to reach the poll booth,” or having “missed out on that luxury cruise just to vote,” or simply “dumping that vacation your friends went off on, just so you could cast your vote,” doesn’t really absolve you of the responsibility. Perhaps, exercising one’s right to franchise should not be a privilege and instead be made a rule as in some nations. If there’s cent per cent voting one could easily presume the results are a cent per cent indication of public opinion.
Otherwise, it’s always be about who got lucky…on the voting day! Till that happens, you could display your voting mark, shoot a selfie and brag about it to your lesser-fortunate pals. And that, if you aren’t contesting elections yourself! If that’s the case the Election Commission ‘will swing into action’ and file an FIR against you. Guess, till Godot arrives, you’re better off with your name not figuring in the rolls at all!
By Gajanan Khergamker
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Image Source: Narendra Modi Selfie