Karnataka election highlights rural-urban divide: State witnesses highest voter turnout, but Bengaluru stays away

The 72.13 percent voter turnout for the Karnataka Assembly elections has broken all records and is the highest recorded in the state since the 1952 polls, Chief Electoral Officer Sanjeev Kumar said on Saturday.

The turnout was marginally better than the 2013 polls, which at 71.45 percent, was the previous highest recorded voter turnout in the last six Assembly elections in Karnataka. It was 65 percent in 2008 and 2004, 69 percent in 1989 and 1994, and 69 percent in the 1990 Assembly election.

Cities fare poorly

But while large numbers of people voted across Karnataka, the state capital Bengaluru stayed away, with only 51 percent of its electorate choosing to vote, even lower than 2013, when only 57.33 percent voted. But, as reported by Hindustan Times, the problem seems specific only to Bangalore Urban. Rural Bengaluru witnessed a healthy 78.25 percent polling.

 Karnataka election highlights rural-urban divide: State witnesses highest voter turnout, but Bengaluru stays away

Representational image. PTI

A report in India Today points out that Bengaluru has always had a rural-urban divide when it comes to voter turnout. In the 2008 Assembly election, Bangalore Urban had 44 percent voters exercising their right, while Bangalore Rural saw 72.5 percent. Five years later, in the 2013 Assembly elections, Bangalore Urban saw 52.83 percent turnout, while Bangalore Rural fared significantly better yet again, with 72.95 percent.

Moreover, urban voters' apathy is an issue that isn't specific to Bengaluru; Mysuru, the state's second largest city, also saw voting percentage lower than the state's average. Although at 66.88 percent, it fared better than 2013, when 65.83 percent of Mysuru's electorate cast their votes, it was lower than the state's average, the report in Hindustan Times added.

The other district with a below-par turnout was Gulbarga in northern Karnataka, where only 56.03 percent of the population voted in the Assembly election, a significant drop from the corresponding figure for 2013, when 63.75 percent did.

At the other end of the spectrum were places that did very well electorally. Most of them, a report in The Indian Express said, were in southern Karnataka. Voter turnout in excess of 75 percent were reported from the Vokkaliga-dominated belt of south Karnataka — comprising the constituencies of Mandya, Hassan, Mysore, Bengaluru Rural and Chikaballapur — where the electoral battle is essentially between the ruling Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) of former prime minister HD Deve Gowda, the report said.

Bloated electoral rolls

However, voter apathy may not be the only reason why Bengaluru witnessed a below-par turnout on Saturday. Another reason may be faulty electoral rolls. "The voting percentage seems to be low in Bengaluru due to the large number of duplicate entries", PG Bhat, a retired naval officer and software professional who has conducted elaborate studies on behalf of the Citizen Matters NGO, was quoted as saying by a report in Money Control.

The NGO highlighted the issue of faulty electoral rolls even before the polls, and predicted that the turnout would be impacted. It said there were a large number of duplicate entries in the rolls. Another volunteer at Citizen Matters, Shree DN, said a door-to-door survey is required to fix the problem once and for all, since there are names of deceased individuals and also names of people under different spellings present on the lists. "When the base is bloated, the voting figures cannot be genuine", she added.

Weekend polling

Several parties also expressed apprehension about polling taking place on the second Saturday of the month, saying this too would impact voter turnout. "It would have been better if polling was on a working day than on a weekend, which can affect voter participation, especially in urban constituencies where people tend to get away because the following day is a Sunday", BJP state spokesman Vamanacharya said after the announcement of the poll schedule.

Bengaluru is home to about 2,000 IT firms and 750 multinationals. Most of the 250,000 IT professionals working in Bengaluru get away on weekends to unwind. The second Saturday of the month is also a holiday for state government employees and banks, meaning voting may not be a priority for them either.

Concurring with BJP on the poll date, the ruling Congress was also wary of the weekend factor. "Polling on a Saturday is worrisome as it will affect the turnout at the booths, as many citizens, especially the youth, would prefer getaways rather than staying back to vote," Congress state unit vice-president BK Chandrashekar told IANS in Bengaluru.

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: May 15, 2018 08:28:32 IST