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Is high voter turnout in Lok Sabha polls advantage for BJP? Psephologists sceptical

Sunday, 20 April 2014 - 8:40am IST | Place: New Delhi | Agency: dna

After the fifth phase of polling, Indian democracy is at a cusp of an interesting stage. In elections held to the 232 parliamentary seats, there has been a nine per cent surge of 58% in voter turnout over the 2009 polls.

If this trend continues, the turnout could surpass even the 1984 high of 63.56% that grossed a windfall of 411 seats for the Congress.

While the latest opinion polls predict a huge advantage for BJP, psephologists are sceptical.

"There is no denying that communal polarization in Western UP and the extraordinary campaign sustained for more than a year is going to help the BJP, particularly in UP. Besides, the unprecedented mediatisation in favour of the BJP is a default pointer to Congress's sliding graph. Yet, one cannot interpret it as a huge advantage to the BJP because of myriad political, social and economic factors," says Abhay Kumar Dubey, analyst with Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS).

He questions the 'Modi wave' and asks: "If this was the case, then why have BJP leaders had to look for safe seats. Why did Jaitely choose Amritsar instead of fighting from Delhi where he is well known, and why did Rajnath Singh move to Lucknow?"

Another reason that defies the 'Modi wave' logic is the very low 54% polling in three Bangalore city constituencies. If it was a factor, then why did a lot of people choose to holiday in Coorg instead of voting for Modi, who is considered popular among techies.

Dubey, like another pollster, Abhay Kumar, said that one big reason for the huge turnout is the first time voters who want the current scenario to change.

"In emerging India, youth, especially first time voters, are looking for more opportunities. But to interpret it as a tide in favour of Modi may not be correct," adds Dubey.

Bhaskar Rao of Centre for Media Studies, however, does not feel there has been a real jump in the actual voter turnout. "One reason for such a seemingly big turnout is that lot of improvement has gone into the voter lists. Earlier they used to be faulty, listing even the dead and those who had shifted residences as voters. If one does a detailed analysis, the actual increase in voter turnout will come down sharply," said Rao.

Despite this factor, Rao thinks the voting percentage has improved by some notches and that the credit for this to a large extent goes to Kejriwal or the AAP factor that has attracted various voting sections. "There is no denying that AAP has motivated the youth to vote," adds Rao.

Psephologists maintain that the party that gets the maximum votes of first timers stands to benefit as they form a very large percentage of about 15%.

According to opinion pollster Abhay Kumar, there are several reasons for the phenomenal increase and one could be that people want a change in government.

"And one factor that you may discount now could be the prevailing fine weather. The polling percentage may see a decline as we move into hotter May," said Kumar.

For an apolitical Election Commission, the reason for the increase lies in factors like continuous campaign egging people to vote and putting in place measures like live webcasting.

A senior EC official credited webcasting and videography along with the presence of posse of paramilitary forces, observers and micro observers for instilling confidence among minority community to come out and vote even in hyper sensitive locations.

"A big reason for the huge increase of 14% in polling in sensitive constituencies was these measures," he said.

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