To increase voter turnout and encourage “ethical” voting, the Election Commission is running a high-pitch campaign across West Bengal with special focus on women and young voters.
Messages urging electors to exercise their franchise in a free and fair manner are being put up not only in wall posters, hoardings, media advertisements, but also sent through videos on YouTube. Folk artistes and even announcements at traffic signals are urging voters to cast their vote.
“We are using all mediums available under the sun to pass on this message to the voters that you need to vote and vote without any barriers or inducements. We are promoting ethical voting in a big way. Special attention is being given to women, young and disabled voters,” an EC official said.
The campaign under the Systematic Voters’ Education and Electoral Participation (SVEEP) Programme, meant to educate voters and ensure that the experience of voting is smooth and hassle-free, has a budget above of Rs 21 crore.
Officials said they have plans to tie up with mobile network providers to send regular SMSes to voters including a reminder to cast their vote on the day of poll.
Although West Bengal has traditionally seen one of the highest voter turnouts in India, yet in terms of percentage there has been a slight fall from the 2011 Assembly elections (84.4 per cent) in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls (82.22 per cent).
In 2006 Assembly polls, the voter turn-out was 81.7 per cent.
For outdoor campaigns the EC is partnering with various government departments to ensure the poll watchdog gets free advertising space for hoardings and electronic display boards at various places.
State icon, Ananya, an 18-year-old girl, is being featured in all outdoor campaign materials as the face of Election Commission in the state.
Messages like “Notey noy, votey thakun” (Not for notes but stay for votes), “Aangule voter chinho. Ek ebong anonyo” (Ink mark of voting on hand. Only one and very important) and “Aamra maa o meye. Ebar aamra ek saathe vote debo” (We are mother and daughter. This time again we will vote together) are being featured in the campaigns.
Cricketing sensation Virat Kohli is also part of the ads as the national icon of the Election Commission.
In small towns and villages, folk artistes are being mobilised for producing songs and plays on themes of ethical campaign and the responsibility of the voter to exercise his or her right.
Besides increasing the overall voter turnout, special focus is being laid on increased turnout of women voters as well as voters with physical challenges.
Interestingly, in the 2011 polls more women had voted than men. Altogether there were 0.14 per cent more voters from the fairer sex.
Voters’ apathy in urban areas was, however, visible.
Kolkata had the least turnout — an average of 65.6 per cent in 2011. Out of 294 seats, the EC has identified a list of 114 Assembly constituencies where the voter turnout was below the state average.
“We want to build confidence among the electors on the overall presence of the Election
Commission of India with substantial improvement in visual presence,” Deputy Chief Electoral Officer Amitjyoti Bhattacharya said.
The six-phase-long Assembly polls in West Bengal will begin from April 4. The last phase is on May 5 while the results will be out on May 19.
Group of poor kids start campaign to reach out to politicians
Ahead of West Bengal Assembly polls, hundreds of marginalised children have started a campaign to reach out to various political leaders and put forward their demands related to education, health, safety and protection from trafficking. To make themselves heard, they will soon start a radio campaign too. 13-year-old Sony Khatoon, recently met Trinamool Congress leader and minister Firhad Hakim. “He was in our area for campaigning and when I went to him he gave me a chocolate. I said I don’t want that chocolate but want the drain to be cleaned regularly. He promised me to get the work done,” Khatoon, who lives near the Kolkata Port area, said. Chittapriyo Sadhu, state head of NGO ‘Save the Children’ which is supporting them, said there are plans to write letters to all political parties to press for the children’s demands and will soon start a campaign in FM radio channels also.