Background of Parliamentary Elections of Bihar
Bihar being the birth place of first republic of the world, has always showed firm commitment to democracy, rather guided it to its cause so many times. Being the 12th largest states of India in terms of geographical area and 2nd in terms of population, Bihar may be put at the lower strata for many reasons but it stands alone so far as political activism is concerned. Election in Bihar has witnessed a fluctuating and decreasing trend of voter turnout both in Parliamentary and State Assembly Elections held during the last twenty years.The 12thgeneral election that was held in 1998 recorded the highest voter turnout of 64.06 % but the general elections that followed after could not maintain the rising trend of voter turnout and it came down to 44.4 % in general election that was held in 2009.
Voter turnout in any election is of immense relevance to the value or credibility that will be attached to its outcome. Voting in elections by citizens is very much encouraged in all democracies, as it is the basis of active citizenship. A high turnout is therefore seen as higher participation in decision-making and a seal of approval or legitimacy. In view of the fact that, voting is one of the most fundamental aspects of civic engagement, many political scientists link voting with the health of the democratic process and argue that declining voting rates may be symptomatic of a “democratic deficit”. Since political participation can also influence public policy, others are concerned that lower participation could result in policies that are not necessarily representative of key constituencies, like those who tend to vote less. As a result, the voter turnout rate is used as one of the indicators of civic engagement.
The turnout at the General Elections in Bihar has been consistently low for some time now. The election department of Bihar commissioned a study "Baseline Survey of KABBP" to understand factors that may have accounted for the low voter turnout and strategies that need to be adopted to increase turnout.
The falling voter's participation in Bihar could be attributed to many factors and is a subject of study.Each State has a unique history, social, political and cultural setting based on which voter participation has to be seen. Some of the factors that affect the trend / voter turnout are as follows:
- The elector in Bihar faces sense of fear, intimidations and security mostly created by anti-social elements and candidates with criminal background. In past marginalized communities have come under serious attack and intimidation preventing many from voting. So in conduct of elections in Bihar free, fair and peaceful polls have always assumed primacy. Steps to ensure these compromises participation at times. So a delicate balance has to be struck between both.
- Migration, a grim reality in the state, is increasingly disturbing poll patterns. It is observed that significant number of people in Bihar migrate primarily for livelihood opportunities and educational opportunities. Though these people have their names in the electoral roll of Bihar but most of them are unable to vote during elections as they are outside the State.
- In the electoral roll revision carried out in 2014, 38.7 lakh new voters were added (an increase of 6.5%). Further in the special enrollment camp organized on 9.3.2014 just before election announcement another 15.8 lakh new voters were added (a further increase of 2.5%). In total, 9% increase in the total voters took place, which is a very significant achievement in terms enrollment drive. But it is also a challenge to ensure that all these newly enrolled voters cast their vote.
- In Bihar, elections are a huge logistic exercise requiring large number of vehicles for transporting the police force, poll personnel, patrolling magistrate with EVMs, etc. As a result during elections almost all the commercial vehicles are requisitioned at the time of polls and almost no public transport is available for voters to commute on the day of polls. To add to this, as a tradition, in an effort to conduct free, fair and peaceful elections even private vehicles are not allowed to ply on the Election Day. This significantly affects the voter participation. In these elections, we have consciously tried to improve on this area.
- For decades the statehave been affected by left wing extremism particularly in Aurangabad, Gaya, Nawada, Kaimur, Rohtas, Jamui, Munger and Banka. Left Wing Extremism (LWE) has affected the Lok Sabha seats such as Sheohar, Sitamarhi, Muzaffarpur and Hajipur in the recent years.
- A significant number of electors in Bihar may not have participated due to inconvenience related to poor infrastructure and minimum facilities at polling stationssuch as improper roads, lack of public transportation, drinking waters, ramps for disabled shades and sitting arrangements, long queues
- Illiteracy and lack of awareness about the significance of vote also tend to decrease the electors participation in Bihar. The non-enrolment of the voters is due the lack of information and underutilization of the existing information dissemination system.
- Apathy and Anger with the system especially among urban voters and youth could also be factor in cities. The trust in government and in politicians has decreased in many places due to criminalization of politics and increasing corruption in political class.
- Extreme climates such as hot weather, extreme cold and heavy rains might also have systematically affected electoral participation in Bihar.
Edited by ECI