The curious case of Chandigarh’s decreasing voters

By Jaideep Sarin, IANS,

Chandigarh : At a time when the number of voters has been increasing everywhere else across India, their number in the union territory of Chandigarh has actually gone down.

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Chandigarh has about 500,000 voters for the forthcoming parliamentary elections in a population of over 1.1 million.

The number of registered voters in the 1999 general elections was over 585,000. The number of voters in the 2004 general elections decreased to about 520,000. In 2008, the registered voters were just over 485,000.

“The curious decrease in number of voters is due to the strict implementation of the voter I-card system in the union territory. A number of bogus and duplicate voters were eliminated from the lists. Even though a few thousand new voters were added, the number of bogus names deleted was far more,” an election department official told IANS.

Chandigarh has a lone seat in the Lok Sabha, represented now by union Minister of State for Finance Pawan Kumar Bansal.

Even leading politicians in the city are a little surprised by the decrease in the number of voters though that has not left them unduly worried.

“Although the facts show that number of voters is decreasing in Chandigarh over the last few years, it is not the reality. The thing is that earlier there was no control on the making of voter I-cards. There were many registered voters not living here but had voter I-cards. Now, with the introduction of photographs on the voter I-card and other stringent rules, all superfluous voters have vanished. So now, we have the right number of eligible voters,” Bansal said.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and former MP Satya Pal Jain says that the voter count this time will touch 500,000, out of which nearly 45 percent will be young voters.

“Having young voters is a good sign for the city. This time, we expect a good voter turnout to break previous records. Campaigns like ‘Jaago Re’ to encourage people to vote will have their impact,” Jain told IANS.

Chandigarh saw a high of nearly 83 percent voting in the 1996 general elections. But in 1999, the third election in as many years, voting hit its lowest ebb with only 48 percent turning out.

In the last general election in 2004, the voting was just over 51 percent with some of the city’s urban areas showing a dismal 20 percent voting.

“This is one issue where we cannot do much. We can only go in every nook and corner of the city for campaigning, to meet the voters and to appeal to them to vote. However, we cannot bring them forcibly to the polling booths,” Bansal said.

Despite being essentially an urbanised territory, the election to the Lok Sabha seat is fought in the city’s slums and villages.

“Out of the total voters in Chandigarh, nearly 100,000 reside in villages and about 150,000 are in (slum) colonies. The rest are in sectors. It is true that voters of colonies and villages constitute the biggest vote bank in the city as every time during elections we have the highest voting percentage from these areas as compared to sectors,” Jain added.

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at [email protected])