The analysis indicates a huge gap between the eligible young voters and registered young voters across various states.
The strategy of electoral mobilisation and political competition in India may change to a great extent only if all young Indians (18-19 years) eligible to be registered as voters actually go out to vote. From caste-based political mobilisation, which we witness at this moment, Indian elections may begin to witness an age-based voters’ mobilisation. Unfortunately, that is missing in Indian elections as not only these young Indians do not form a political entity, but sadly, their enrolment rate is also very low. An analysis of the population data between the age of 18-19 from Census 2011 and registered voters of the same age for 2014 Lok Sabha elections released by the Election Commission indicate only 45 per cent of these young Indians were registered as voters, and thus surprisingly the names of more than 55 per cent of these young people did not figure on the voters list.
The young voters comprised roughly 2.6 per cent of the total registered voters during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, while young Indians in the same age group comprised a total of 6.4 per cent of adult population (18+ years of age). These figures give a clear indication of something being wrong with the registration of these young Indians as voters. Clearly, a large number of young Indians have not been registered as voters in many states.
The young voters may not have voted in large numbers in the past, but they voted in large numbers during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. They voted for the BJP in much bigger numbers, compared to voters of other age group, largely due to an attraction for Narendra Modi. The victory of the BJP could have been much bigger if all young Indians were registered as voters during the elections. Inaccurate electoral rolls seem to have an impact even on the electoral outcome. In the last election, the young preferred the BJP, in the next elections it could be some other political party. Lower enrolment could affect the outcome of election results in close elections. It is time to pay attention to this very basic factor — the registration of citizens as voters.
The analysis indicates a huge gap between the eligible young voters and registered young voters across various states. Overall this gap is 55 per cent, which is to say of every 10 young Indians (18-19 years of age) whose name should be on the voters list, the names of only four such persons figures on the voters list while names of six young Indians are missing from the voters list. The situation regarding registration of young citizens as voters is bad in states like Delhi, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh. Manipur, Nagaland and Chandigarh. While in Chandigarh, only 15 per cent of the eligible young citizens are registered, it is 24 per cent in Himachal Pradesh and Maharashtra, 32 per cent in Delhi, 35 per cent in Uttarakhand and Haryana. In many other states, the enrolment ratio is below 50 per cent of those eligible to be registered as voters.
While we do not know the reasons of their names having missed out from the voters list, but studies conducted by Centre for the Study of Developing Societies does indicate about their electoral participation and electoral preferences. Since these young voters have shown signs of a higher participation and distinct political preferences in recent elections, such discrepancy in voters list (lower enrolment) has the potential of affecting the nature of the electoral outcome.
Studies conducted in 2014 does indicate that large numbers of these young voters in the age group 18-19 turned out to vote in 2014, slightly more than the average turnout in that elections. The study also indicated that these young voters (18-19 years) voted for the BJP in much bigger numbers compared to the voters of other group. Compared to 31 per cent average vote share of the BJP, amongst these young voters 33 per cent voted for the BJP, which helped the party win. The BJP allies were also preferred in slightly bigger numbers amongst these young voters compared to the voters of other age groups.
How to make voters’ registration smooth and easy for common citizens should be the very focus of electoral reforms. Various other initiatives for bringing about electoral reforms in Indian elections are meaningless if the basic reform is not being carried out, that is, granting voting rights to all adult citizens. The efforts made by the EC through programmes like Systematic Voters’ Education and Electoral Participation (SVEEP) has changed the situation comparatively. Electoral rolls now are much accurate than before. The EC should also be given some credit for increased turnout in recent elections both national and state level elections, but still there is a lot more to be done.
Recent initiative of the EC to use Facebook to encourage young voters to enrol themselves as voters will help, but this may not be enough to bring about the desired results. A recent study by CSDS amongst the Indian youth indicates, even now 46 per cent of young Indians (18-19 years) do not use Facebook. The figures stand at 42 per cent who do not use Facebook in urban locations (big cities and small towns) and in villages 47 per cent do not use it. The EC should think of complementing the use of Facebook with some other method to encourage young Indians to enrol as voters.