Sheila Dixit’s win in Delhi – a new voting era in India?
If India had been Delhi we would be lucky wouldn’t we, because the Chief Minister there, Sheila Dikshit (Dixit) of the Congress, epitomizes everything that the middle class desires in their politician. She is educated, suave, with no allegations of being involved in crime or instigating riots, is known as an excellent administrator and remains untouched by corruption allegations. Unfortunately she is one of a kind.
That poster above was one of those shown by the demonstrators at the Gateway of India after the Mumbai terror attacks and reflects the mood of the country after the terrorist attacks.
It stands to reason that the Delhi electorate showed their confidence in a clean politician like Sheila Dikshit and elected her for the third term. The fact that Delhi had a high voter turnout, the highest ever (63 percent) in the last 15 years, is also put down by analysts to the terror in Mumbai. These attacks are believed to have roused the middle classes out of their slumber and made them come out to vote like never seen before.
Sure, Dikshit has won twice before, but a lot of people had expected Delhi’s government to fall this time, partly due to the anti-incumbency factor and partly due to disenchantment with the Congress party’s (soft) approach to terror.
But despite voters coming out in greater numbers, they elected her government. Despite the BJP claiming that Dikshit’s government, the Congress (which also rules at the centre), was ineffective in controlling terrorism and deserved to be thrown out, they voted for her party. This according to some political analysts, means that the BJP’s election plank of national security flopped. But it’s too soon to assume that. After all, Delhites have voted just in an assembly poll. In fact I think that this election shows the voters’ maturity, their understanding that in an assembly election local issues are paramount.
Voters have shown confidence in Sheila Dikshit the person and her administration’s performance (Delhi is shining today, the metro is a huge achievement, and pollution has been controlled). I think this augurs well for our nation, that voters are rooting for an effective politician, even when face to face with terror.
Once we get more educated people coming out to vote we will get more leaders, and fewer wheelers and dealers. At present the situation isn’t good, but it is encouraging to know that in the just-finished state elections, four out five states that went to the polls showed an increase in voter turnout.
Here is some information of voter turnouts in some cities of India. I could not get all figures for the same period for similar elections, and some percentages are for a particular phase, but the figures do give a rough picture. The figures are sourced from: , , ,,, , , , ,  and .
Delhi: November 2008 Delhi state elections – the highest voter turnout in the last 15 years at 63 percent. Consider that voter turnout in Delhi had gone down by 20 percent before this election -from 65.75 percent in the 1993 state elections to just 43 percent in last year’s civic polls. So this increase is significant, as is the increase in voter turnout of all the 5 states that went to the polls for this years state polls.
Madhya Pradesh: 2008 state elections: voter turnout of 69.31 per cent, highest ever.
Rajasthan: 2008 state elections – voter turnout between 65 to 68 per cent, again a record. The average (for state elections) between 1989 and 2003 has been around 60.4 per cent. One does not know if the recent terror attacks played a role in the increase in Rajasthan as voter turnout in this state has been rising steadily since 1980.
Mumbai: 2006 state elections – 50-55 percent turnout. However in the Civic/Municipal Polls of 2007 in Mumbai voter turnout was approximately 50 percent. Overall in Maharashtra, voter turnout was 58 per cent during these civic polls, for 10 municipal corporations. Polling percentage in Pune was 57 percent and it was highest in smaller towns like Solapur (60) and Amravati (65) (figures for civic polls). Generally, the smaller the place, the higher the voter turnout.
Bangalore: May 2008 state elections – the voter turnout in Bangalore city was 44 percent, the lowest ever in the past five elections.
Voter turnout in Karnataka state as a whole was higher, at 66 percent, slightly higher than the turnout of 65 percent in the previous assembly elections in 2004. So again it is the big cities which show a reluctance to vote. And whether it is Mumbai or Bangalore, it is the poorer areas in the cities which show the highest voter turnouts.
Chennai: 2006 state elections – voter turnout believed to be over 60 percent, an increase over the 2001 turnout, which was just 43.73 per cent. But even then Chennai voters come out in smaller numbers than their counterparts in other parts of their state, where in some districts voter percentage was 70-80 percent.
Kolkata: 2006 state elections – While some sources say that West Bengal had an average of 81.62 per cent votes cast, other sources say that it was 76 percent. I was not able to get reliable figures for Kolkata city but it is certainly higher than all other Indian cities. In fact from what I could find on the net, West Bengal as a state has the highest voter turnout of all states.
Kerala: 2006 state elections – voter turnout was 68 percent in the state overall.
Assam: 2006 state elections – voter turnout was 65 percent in the state overall.
If we take just the five states that just went to the polls to vote in their state government during/after the Mumbai terror attacks (Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir and Mizoram), about four of them recorded a higher than a 14-year average turnout. Only Mizoram bucked the trend, but then its turnout at 70 per cent is still the highest amongst the five!
Overall in the last Lok Sabha (national elections, 2004) about 45 to 50 per cent of the electorate voted. But after seeing the huge jump in voters in Delhi and in other parts I am beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel. After all we have a large educated middle class (250-300m) and if they all come out to vote we can change the face of this country forever. And the fact that a large chunk of our population is young means that they will certainly vote for change.
The change will happen slowly because the people standing for elections will have to change for any real change to take place. But it’s natural that tickets will be given to those who have a better chance of winning. Once those politicians know who (WE!!) they are facing, they will put up the right candidates and the revolution will start. Through the ballot. We need just 2-3 general elections to see the changing face of our politicians. I think we will look back in history and see the Mumbai terror attacks the turning point in our voting history. Lets make it happen.
(All photographs have been taken by an unknown person and forwarded to me by email by a friend)
Related Reading: Registering your no-vote stops proxy voting
What role did we play in the Mumbai terror attack (guest post)
Narendra Modi gets elected for the third time in Gujarat
The Congress losing civic polls in Mumbai and Pune…a portent for the future?
The middle-classes need to vote
Bal Thackeray’s election campaign ads are funny