By Prabhjot Singh*
Contrary to expectations of a bumper poll, voters in many parts of the State, especially urban areas, showed little or no enthusiasm in exercising their franchise. The State recorded its lowest ever poll percentage in last 20 years.
The State Election Commission confirmed that the total turnout in the February 20 poll was 71.95 per cent, disappointingly lower than the polling figures in the previous three assembly polls of 2017, 2012 and 2007. It was 78.30 per cent in 2012 and 77.20 per cent in 2017.
While voters response in rural and semi urban areas was normal to lukewarm, the urban voters, especially in big cities like Amritsar, Jalandhar, Ludhiana and Patiala, cold shouldered the democratic process of choosing their legislators.
Prompted by a record number of parties and alliances in the fray for wresting political power in the debt-ridden state, expectations flew high for a bumper turnout in the multi-cornered contests.
Against expectations that a record number of candidates, 1304, including 93 women, would spur voters to turn up in larger numbers, urban electors, including a section of millennials, decided to stay away. Neither multi-cornered contests nor first time contestants, enthused the city voters .
Over 80 per cent polling was witnessed only in 11 Malwa constituencies , including Sardulgarh and Budhladha in Mansa; Gidderbaha and Lambi(Parkash Singh Badal is facing Jagpal Singh Abulkhurana and Gurmeet Singh Khudian) (Muktsar), Fazilka and Jalalabad (Fazilka); Guruharsahai and Zira (Ferozepur); and Maur, Bhucho Mandi and Talwandi Sabo (Bathinda).
This high per centage in the Malwa belt is partially attributed to the Premis of Dera Sacha Sauda who are believed to have voted in accordance with the directions or wishes of their chief, Ram Rahim, currently on parole.
There are nine constituencies where less than 62 per cent votes were polled. Four of these are in Amritsar district (Amritsar North, Amritsar South, Amritsar West and Amritsar Central), Jalandhar Central, Atam Nagar, Ludhiana Central, Ludhiana South and Ludhiana North, besides Patiala.
One of the reasons for a substantial drop in polling is being ascribed to the fact that as many as one-fourth of the contestants are facing criminal cases.
The Election Commission religiously followed the 2020 order of the Apex Court on the publication of criminal antecedents of candidates. Since the antecedents of the contestants, including the criminal cases pending against them were in the public view, a substantial section of the voters probably got disillusioned with the type of the political leaders they were expected to choose.
What could be more glaring then the disappointing turn out in prestigious urban constituencies like Amritsar East, Amritsar West, Amritsar North and Amritsar South, Jalandhar Centra, Ludhiana North, Ludhiana central and Atam Nagar, besides Patiala.
The Amritsar East constituency, that hawked media headlines for witnessing a ‘clash of titans’ — state Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu versus Akali stalwart Bikram Singh Majithia with Dr Jagmohan Singh Raju, an ex-bureaucrat, representing the NDA alliance, as the third candidate, was nowhere near the State average of 71.95 per cent.
Patiala from where former Chief Minister and President of the Punjab Lok Congress, Capt Amarinder Singh, is a contestant, witnessed 63.58 per cent polling.
Amritsar North that had Kanwar Vijay Partap Singh, who quit IPS to join politics as an AAP candidate, recorded 60.97 per cent. Voters apathy was not only confined to some constituencies but was all over leaving aside some rural and semi urban areas in the Malwa belt.
Dismal performance of successive governments primarily because of their failure to put a control on “mafias” and keeping their promises were reasons for the despair disillusionment of voters in general and the youth in particular.
The unimpressive turnout at the February 20 poll has once again necessitated the need for introspection not only by the political parties and their leaders but also by social scientists. They need to urgently debate on why things have come to such a pass.
The Election Commission also has to do some thinking on the efficacy of its multimedia awareness campaigns aimed at motivating voters. The nagging feeling that elections are an exercise in futility is a worrying sign not only for politicians but also for the populace.
Going by the final poll figures of the Election Commission, 1.54 crore voters exercised their franchise in Punjab. Out of these, 81,33,930 were men and 73,35,406 were women. Thus, men-women ratio was 52.58 per cent and 47.41 per cent, respectively. Apart from that 282 transgenders also exercised their right to vote.
Out of 12 constituencies where women voters outnumbered men fall in three districts of Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur and SBS Nagar. Anandpur Sahib in Ropar district has also witnessed more women voters. On all these seats, the number of women electorate was more than men. The eleven constituencies where women voters polled more include Bholath, Shahkot, Adampur, Mukerian, Dasuya, Urmar, Sham Churasi, Chabbewal, Garhshankar, Banga, Nawanshahr, Balachaur and Anandpur Sahib.
Among all such seats, the highest difference of votes was in Bholath constituency, which has 46,781 women voters.