Millennium Post

Nobody’s voters

Nobody’s voters
Voting for the 16th Lok Sabha has been completed. The nation is waiting to know what is sealed in the EVMs, which would be opened on 16 May. In the meanwhile it would not be inappropriate to discuss issues which failed to attract the media and pollleft the radar of election commission as well as media attention.

This 2014 elections recorded the highest ever voter’s turnout with 66.38 per cent casting their votes to elect 543 member of Lok Sabha beating the previous high turnout of 64.01 per cent recorded in 1984 polls,which were held after the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The voter turnout could have been higher if the election commission had paid some attention on those voters who could not vote. Some people found out at the last moment  that their name has been deleted from the voters list although they have been voting for many years. However, another and more important reason for registering a still higher voter turnout is the fact that many poor people from the Hindi heartland migrate to big cities for work. Generally these people largely belong to all the the Other Backward Classes or SC/ST communities. The city-ward migration is an important factor in deciding the voting trends in rural India.

This matter is an important segment in the study of political demography. These migrant workers affect the fortunes of many political parities and workers. In the caste based electoral politics in India these migrant can make or break the fortunes.   Prof Ravi Srivastava, an economist at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi  has made a conservative estimate in his study that three out of every 10 Indians  have moved away from their homes usually in search of a better jobs. As per 2001 Census  we know that there was 30.9 crore internal migration of  which 70.7 per cent was female migration mostly due to marriage.  National sample survey tells us that in 2007-2008  about 28.5 per cent internal migrations were male in search of work to cities.

This migration for job is the major reason for the voting per centage in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar not crossing 62 per cent of registered votes despite being a politically conscious states. On the other hand, similarly politically conscious states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal see record breaking  turnout when compared to UP and Bihar. Same trend was witnessed even in the elections just concluded. There are two types of migrations which take place from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar – seasonal and permanent. Permanent migration is one when there is a shift of the home with family to  another location while seasonal/temporary migration can be defined when  a household member stays  away from his or her village or town and lives  somewhere else for one month or more but less than six months for employment or in search of employment. The per centage of seasonal interstate male migrants in search for job and education in these two states are very high. In the past decade, the four developed states of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Punjab and Haryana have recorded increase in net  migration while less developed states like Assam, Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir, Odisha , Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh has recorded increase in outward migration.
The  Census of India has not released the migration data of 2011 census but we have  the migration data of 2001 census and National sample survey 2007-2008. National Sample Survey 2007-2008 states that there were a total of 1,36,21,100 temporary migrants of all ages in India in the reference period 2007-2008. Uttar Pradesh and Bihar continue to be states from which the largest share of migrants come to Delhi – the share of Uttar Pradesh increasing to about 47 per cent from about 43 per cent in 2001. In case of migrants from Bihar, the rise is extra-ordinary, rising from 14 per cent in 2001 to nearly 31 per cent in 2013. A total of 41 per cent of all migrants in Maharashtra come from UP. This per centage converted into numbers can be staggering since Maharashtra itself accounts for the highest number of migrants from all over the country.

According to National Sample Survey around 21 lakh of people Bihar and 20 lakh of Uttar Pradesh have gone to temporary and seasonal migration which includes maximum number of rural folk. 30 out of 1,000 people migrate from Bihar while 14 out of 1,000 from Uttar Pradesh. The question now arises is – How can this migration affect a political party? These figures are important as far as voter turn out is concerned. More Muslims migrate than Hindus in all over India. The same is the case with  Uttar Pradesh and Bihar also. 23.2 migrants out 1,000 people are Muslims while 20.6 out of 1,000 people belong to Hindu religion. The main reason behind the migration is poverty, regional inequalities and uneven development. Therefore NDA may benefit as Muslims are not known to vote for BJP. Temporary migration rates of different social groups may vary considerably. The numbers are very high among the scheduled tribes (45 per 1,000) in the age group of 15-64. The rate was 25 persons out of  every 1,000 in scheduled castes, 19.5 persons out of 1,000 among the OBCs and 12.2 out of 1,000 others particularly from the upper castes. Migration patterns also vary among the  OBCs, because Yadav, Koeri and Kurmi are assumed better off economically hence less migrants in 
comparison to other OBCs.

Members of these  castes are involved in  two occupations like agriculture and milk production .They also get more government jobs compared to more backward OBCs. At present, only members of the armed forces, those on election duty, some displaced communities, senior government ministers and Indian diplomats outside the country can vote by post or through a proxy. As a result, most temporary migrants do not exercise their right to vote.

Supreme Court asked the Election Commission in one of its orders to examine the possibility of allowing non-resident citizens to vote at Indian missions abroad. Letting them vote online in future polls is also being considered. Hence we might see Indians living abroad voting in the elections in future. Although big in numbers, the migrant population specially the poor do not have loud enough voice necessary to get the attention of media or making the courts intervene. This is the reason why it has not attracted the attention of the Election Commission also so far. This is a new challenge for the Election Commission to evolve a strategy and also find a technology to get the poor job-seeking migrants to participate in the electoral process.

We have instance of Kashmiri Pandits who were forced to leave their homes in J&K in 90s. The election commission arranges for exercise of their electoral rights from the place they were relocated to in refugee camps. The temporary migrant workers from UP and Bihar are generally big in numbers and live in the comparatively more developed states of India.

May be the elections commission comes out with a proposal to ensure that the people are able to vote for the candidate of their village from wherever they are. This will do a lot of good to the Indian democracy and make it healthier. This would also ensure a reasonably good increase  in the voting per centage and even change the results.

The author is a political and election analyst

Dharmendra Kumar Singh

Dharmendra Kumar Singh

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