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Pradeep Pattanayak

The recently concluded urban local body election in Odisha has laid bare a disturbing trend of political apathy by electorates in the urban centres. 

As low as 50 per cent voters turned out in Bhubaneswar while the figure was 48 percent in Berhampur. The trend has left political analyst worried, and political parties putting an accusing finger at one another. 

The poor voter participation is seen as not a good sign for a democratic set up. Intellectuals are of the opinion that the Odisha Election Commission and political parties should brainstorm to find ways to increase voters’ participation in future. 

In the Panchayat (rural) election, the participation of voters was over 70 per cent across the State. In Urban election, it hardly crossed 60 per cent. What concerns more is the fact that in Bhubaneswar, where the number of educated voters is more than any other urban areas, 50 per cent electors did not exercise their franchise in the corporation election. In Cuttack, 35 per cent voters preferred to abstain from voting. 

Berhampur city witnessed even less voter participation. There, only 47 per cent voters cast their votes, which is a seven percent less than the last polling for the corporation election. 

Simplified, it would mean overall, 34 per cent of urban voters kept themselves away from the election. 

It has been alleged that many of such voters couldn’t exercise their franchise due to omission of their names from the voter lists and change of booths. 

Political analysts and intellectuals said the reason why educated voters preferred not to take part in the lection primarily lies in the slum-centric schemes of the government. Moreover, young voters migrating to other states in search of work, city dwellers’ dwindling faith in the system, and, last but not the least, a kind of scarcity of candidates of their choice could be the other factors attributing to the apathy. 

“It seems to me that the Capital city dwellers are not dependent on government schemes. This might have made them think why should they vote at all? Moreover, they might also be thinking their votes could hardly bring any difference,” observed convenor of Election Watch, Ranjan Mohanty. 

Educationist, Krushnachandra Patra said the educated voters might have been thinking their participation in the electoral process was a waste given the fact that the candidates are resorting to all sorts of unfair means to win votes.

Secretary, State Election Commission, Rabindra Nath Sahu said the turnout was less despite the BMC and BeMC developing applications to guide voters to the locations of their booths. “In spite of this, voters didn’t turn up,” Sahu added. 

Meanwhile, the dismal voter participation in urban polls has given rise to mudslinging politics, with political parties blaming each other for the dismal trend. 

“The educated mass is pro-BJP. Realising this, the ruling party, with the help of the OEC, had prepared the voter lists in such a way that it would discourage them from voting,” said Odisha Vice President of Odisha BJP, Bhrugu Baxipatra. 

Senior Congress leader Jayadev Jena said, “The city voters know it very well that their votes would not bring about in any change since votes are being purchased overnight. This is the reason why they opted out.”

BJD MLA Sushant Rout said the polling percentage this election was more than what was polled during the last election. “But, the Oppositions had not raised any noise then,” Rout added.

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