Five municipal corporations in Uttar Pradesh where polling was conducted using electronic voting machines on Wednesday – the first phase of civic body elections in the state – recorded low voting percentages. On the other hand, the voter turnout was significantly higher in the 224 nagar panchayats (municipal boards) and nagar palikas (town areas) where ballot papers were used.
This voting pattern has prompted political parties, excluding the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, to ask: did the allegations of electronic voting machines being rigged during Assembly elections in February-March result in voter apathy in the municipal corporation areas that used the machines for the civic polls?
The allegations of tampering by Opposition parties had cast a shadow on the BJP’s landslide win in the Assembly polls. In this backdrop, the civic elections are widely seen as an acid test of the BJP’s popularity, with the belief that the charges will lose their sting if the party performs well in areas where ballot papers are used.
Of the five municipal corporations, Gorakhpur had the lowest voter turnout at 35.6% followed by Agra with 40.2%, Kanpur with 44.2%, Meerut with 47.8% and Ayodhya-Faizabad recording 49.9%.
In contrast, the voting percentage in 198 out of the 224 urban local bodies ranged between 60% and 82%. Twenty-two civic bodies saw a turnout between 50% and 60% while the remaining four recorded a turnout of 45% to 50%.
Elections to the remaining 11 municipal corporations and 412 nagar panchayats and nagar palikas are scheduled for November 26 and November 29. Votes will be counted on December 1. Electronic voting machines will be used only for the municipal corporations.
‘People have lost faith in EVMs’
Though it is difficult to gauge the exact reason for the low turnout in the municipal corporations, political parties fear this may have been caused by doubts among the electorate of whether their votes will actually go to the candidates they voted for.
“Allegations of tampering of EVMs during Assembly elections have badly affected the enthusiasm of ordinary voters,” said Sunita Verma, the Bahujan Samaj Party’s mayoral candidate in Meerut. “Many people have started believing that it does not matter whether they cast their votes or not because their choice will not have any bearing on the final result.”
The Congress candidate for the mayor’s post in Ayodhya-Faizabad, Shailendra Mani Pande, agreed. “We tried to convince voters that they must go out to vote, but there is a feeling among large sections that their vote, even if they don’t want, will ultimately increase the tally of the BJP,” he said. “This worry seems to have stopped many voters who didn’t want to vote for the BJP.”
According to Rahul Gupta, who is contesting the Gorakhpur mayoral polls on a Samajwadi Party ticket, “People have lost faith in EVMs. If something is not done quickly to salvage the situation, voter apathy might take a dangerous proportion and hit at the very roots of Indian democracy.”
Adding to their worries, there were reports of voters in Meerut and Kanpur alleging that some machines were registering votes only for the BJP no matter which button was pressed. There were reports of electronic voting machines malfunctioning in Gorakhpur as well.
BJP says rivals discrediting EVMs
However, the BJP’s mayoral candidate in Gorakhpur, Sitaram Jaiswal, dismissed these fears and said the low turnout in his constituency had more to do with a faulty voters’ list than with people’s perception of electronic voting machines.
“People generally have total faith in EVM-based polling,” he said. “It was faulty voters’ list that led to low voting percentage in Gorakhpur. Since my opponents do not have the support of people, they have started discrediting the EVMs.”
The BJP had won 10 of the 12 mayoral posts up for contest in 2012 but managed to bag only 42 posts of municipal board chairperson and 36 nagar panchayat seats.