The role of State Bank of India in suppressing information about the Supreme Court-struck down electoral bonds has been well-exposed. Now more evidence of SBI’s ‘political mandate’ is emerging. For no rhyme or reason, an inhouse economist has debunked what he describes as the myth of voter apathy in the current elections. Hi study covered only the first two phases of polling, but the turnout in the just-concluded third phase also indicates a decline, compared to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. SBI’ chief economic advisor Samya Kanti Ghosh argues that comparing the absolute number of votes cast is a better way to analyse the turnout, rather than comparing past and present and future in terms of percentages. According to him, while the voting is about 3.1 percentage points below the trend observed in 2019, the numbers can swell in the remaining phases of polls and there will be a ‘J-shaped’ increase. He also notes that the first two phases of polls witnessed salutary changes like higher women’s participation on an incremental basis, and those in reserved seats.

In Phase 1, 66.14 percent voted, and in Phase 2, 66.71 turned up at the polling stations, marking a drop from the 2019 figures of 69.43 percent and 69.17 percent, respectively. The turnout in the third phase has been reported at 4 percent, nearly 3 percent lower than 2019. It was widely reported that the lower turnout in the early phases of polling had the BJP leadership worried over its implications. There have even been suggestions that Modi shifted his campaign thrust to causing religious divide by raising Muslim-sensitive issues due to the feared setback on account of the poor voter response in the early phases. Of late he has been telling his election rallies the primary need to go for voting. The SBI assessment thus appears to be an economist’s reassurance to the politician.

Voter turnout, simply put, is the percentage of eligible voters who cast their ballots during an election. It transcends mere numbers; it reflects citizens’ engagement with the democratic process. When citizens exercise their right to vote, they contribute to the vibrancy of democracy. Conversely, low voter turnout can have far-reaching consequences for democracy itself. When citizens turn up at polling booths, they validate the democratic process, reinforcing its legitimacy. Conversely, low turnout can distort the representation of people’s will, potentially altering electoral outcomes.

Two landmark elections—2014 and 2019—highlight the correlation between voter turnout and electoral outcomes. In both instances, there was higher voter participation and the BJP, riding on this wave of engagement, secured a clear majority. The increased voter turnout bolstered the BJP’s mandate, allowing it to form a stable government.

The surge in the voter turnout in 2014 and 2019 also coincided with an increase in young voters. However, empirical evidence from India’s 61st Amendment, which lowered the voting age from 21 to 18 in 1988, reveals a nuanced picture. It turns out that the franchise extension has had minimal electoral effects. Despite enfranchising 50 million new voters, the registered electorate and overall turnout remained largely unaffected. While youth participation remains a critical concern, there is also need to examine the role of older voters as voter fatigue is often attributed to the elderly. Also requiring examination is whether the prolonged election periods is adding to voter fatigue. There is widespread criticism that the extended election period has been unduly long, putting pressure on resources of political parties. There have even been suggestions that the longer period works in favour of the BJP, which has no dearth of resources.

An unexplored area in voter behaviour or fatigue relates to the increasing urban migration of rural youth. According to available statistics, approximately 35 percent of India’s population are migrants, primarily residing in cities. Many fail to re-register to vote, despite provisions allowing it. Urban youth, especially, exhibit lower interest in elections. The magnitude of the problem of population on the move was first realised during the great reverse migration in the wake of the lock-down due to the Covid pandemic.

The loss of trust in political institutions has been a global phenomenon as the 21st century witnesses rising skepticism among large sections of people and India is no exception. Corruption scandals, inadequate representation, and the perception that individual votes hardly matter contribute to disillusionment. It will take a mammoth effort to restore the lost confidence and this has to be seen in the context of the need for reforms the political processes. Trust-building, streamlined processes, and targeted campaigns can bridge gaps and as India’s democracy evolves, understanding these dynamics is essential.


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