Will city make up for lowest turnout in 2009? 

Written By Unknown on Kamis, 24 April 2014 | 22.23

In 2009, Mumbai hit rock-bottom when it came to engaging with electoral democracy. At 41.4%, not only was the city's voter turnout in the previous Lok Sabha election well below any other metropolitan city in India, it was also the worst voting percentage in Mumbai's history. However, given the unprecedented voter turnout across much of India this year, there is hope that Mumbaikars will cast the ballot in larger numbers on Thursday morning.

From 1991 to 2009, the voting percentage in Mumbai has largely remained under 50%, barely topping the half-way mark on only one occasion. Before 1991 the voter turnout never fell below 50%, and from 1962 to 1977, it crossed 60% for every election.

A look at the voting percentages for the city over the years (see box), shows that before 2009, the low point in Mumbai's electoral history was 1991. In emphasis, Mumbai South constituency clocked the lowest voter turnout for any constituency in Mumbai's history that year, falling below 40%.

On the bright side, the highest turnout in Mumbai was in 1967, when over 68% of the city's electorate came out to vote. That year, Mumbai's (then) Central South constituency recorded the highest voter turnout for any constituency in Mumbai's history, with over 70% of the population getting inked. The seat was won by veteran socialist S A Dange of the Communist Party of India. Trade union leader George Fernandes won from the Mumbai South constituency that year on a ticket from the Samyukta Socialist Party. Over 67% of South Mumbai came out to vote that year.

If Mumbai had such a high voter turnout in the first couple of decades after independence, why has one of India's most important cities stopped voting in the last 20 years?

Political analysts and social scientists believe this may have to do with the impact of economic liberalization on the country's financial capital, a decline in working class movements and the collapse of Mumbai's mills.

Jose George, political scientist at Mumbai University, pointed at the decimation of the communist party in Mumbai at the hands of the right-wing Shiv Sena and its brand of identity politics which leaves little space for dialogue as a factor in Mumbai's progressively declining engagement with electoral democracy. "Genuine grassroots politics was replaced by communal, identity politics," said George.

"Economic liberalization has seen the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer in Mumbai. The institutions of governance work for the rich irrespective of which government is in power, and so they do not feel the need to cast their vote. The poor, for whom the government matters most, find themselves ignored by the government, and so increasingly do not feel the need to vote, particularly during a general election. Their engagement is more with municipal elections," said S Parasuraman, director of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences.

As for the healthy voter turnout in 1967, Parasuraman points to the massive working class movement around the time that voted for leaders with a strong ideology who fought for the rights of their electorate. He talks of the decimation of the organized sector in Mumbai, with people flung towards caste- and class-based voting.

Mumbai's progressively low voter turnout may also have to do with the death of the city's student unions, once vibrant in the 1960s and '70s. Student politics was banned after the murder of a student on a Mumbai campus in the 1990s.

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