In a SVEEP, voting is up in India

New Delhi, Nov 7 (IANS) Greater numbers of people, particularly youth and women, are registering as voters and casting their ballots in India's elections, thanks to the Systematic Voters Education and Electoral Participation (SVEEP) programme, the Election Commission (EC) says.

A well-planned strategy to expand the voter base in India, the world's largest democracy, and ensure better polling percentages by involving the state governments and roping in popular cultural icons has borne fruit.

"There has been a consistent increase in voter registration and voter turnout in assembly elections in the past three years," EC director general Akshay Raut told IANS.

According to the EC, voter registration, especially among youth, has gone up from 10-15 percent to 30-35 percent since 2010 and polling percentages have shown a northward trend.

"States like West Bengal (2011), Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Goa, Puducherry and Himachal Pradesh (all 2012) recorded historically high voter turnouts. Women voters outnumbered men in the five states which went to the polls in Feb-March this year" said Raut.

Data shows that polling percentages increased in 2012 from the previous elections - in Punjab from 75.45 percent to 78.57 percent, in Uttarakhand from 59.45 percent to 69.89 percent, in Uttar Pradesh from 45.96 percent to 59.50 percent, in Goa from 70.51 percent to 82.83 percent and in West Bengal from 81.97 percent to 84.20 percent.

Himachal Pradesh, which went to the polls Nov 4, registered 74.66 percent, up three percent from 71.49 percent in 2007.

According to Raut, the initiative started from the Bihar assembly polls in 2010 after the EC found that women and youth, particularly those aged 18-19 years, were lagging behind in getting registered as voters, especially in urban areas.

Roping in state governments helped the poll panel reach out to the target audience. "But the decision to have national and local icons really paid off," said Raut.

Former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and Indian cricket captain M.S. Dhoni are the national icons. Bhojpuri folk singer Sharada Sinha in Bihar and folk singers Vicky Chauhan, Karnail Rana and Nirmal Sharma, besides Radio Jockey Shalini Sharma, in Himachal helped attract a large number of first-time voters, EC officials said.

A series of outreach measures like marathons, rallies, processions, quiz competitions, declamation contests, street play, SMSes and helplines to promote voting were utilised besides media campaigns, the officials added.

(Amit Agnihotri can be contacted at amit.a@ians.in)