ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Low Levels of Electoral Participation in Metropolitan Cities

In successive elections, electoral participation in India’s big, metropolitan cities has been lower vis-à-vis semi-urban and rural constituencies. In the absence of any empirical evidence, this phenomenon is often attributed by the media and political commentators to middle-class apathy and their disdain towards electoral politics. This article contests the popular claim and argues that in big cities, it is not the middle class but the urban poor who are unable to exercise their franchise.

Electoral participation in India’s big, metropolitan cities has been observed to be comparatively lower than that in semi-urban and rural areas. Empirically measured in terms of voter turnout, the percentage of voters who participate in elections in cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, etc, has been found to be way lower than the average turnout of their respective states. This phenomenon has puzzled the Election Commission and social scientists alike, especially since backward and rural areas have reported relatively higher electoral participation (Banerjee 2014). The media and political commentators often attribute this to middle-class apathy and lack of political engagement among India’s urban, educated voters. Is it really so? In the absence of any empirical evidence, it is difficult to explain why there are lower levels of electoral participation in metropolitan cities and, thus, opinion is accepted as fact.

However, empirical data gathered as a part of our National Election Studies (NES) indicate that metropolitan cities have lower voter turnouts not because the so-called middle classes do not participate in the national elections but, rather, because the urban poor residing in these big cities do not exercise their franchise in larger numbers. Further, using data from the State Election Study (SES) of Delhi, one of the largest urban agglomerations in the country, we can argue that a large share of these urban poor are internal migrants who do not form a part of India’s democratic upsurge due to low enrolment rates and, hence, are the reason behind the low urban turnout rate. We present our argument in this article through the following sections: In the first section, we attempt to highlight the extent of the problem—low voter turnouts—in India’s urban constituencies. In the second section, we address the common belief that the low voter turnouts in cities are due to middle-class apathy and provide our explanation for the same. The third section takes this argument forward and examins the political exclusion of internal migrants due to low enrolment rates and low electoral participation.

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Updated On : 13th Nov, 2017

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