25th January is observed as the National Voters’ Day (NVD). It is also the day when the founding fathers of Indian Constitution gave to their people ‘the Election Commission of India’, with the mandate of Superintendence, direction and control of elections. The Commission is dedicated to the task of delivering free, fair and credible elections to the Indian people. But to make democracy meaningful, there has to be maximum participation of the people in the electoral process.
Conducting of Election entails the inbuilt responsibility to have every eligible Indian on the electoral roll and get everyone in the roll to vote voluntarily. Besides, the participation of citizens in elections needs to be informed and ethical for a healthy democracy. The objective behind National Voters’ Day celebrations is to increase enrolment of voters, especially of the newly eligible ones to make universal adult suffrage a complete reality. National Voters’ Day is aimed at reaching out to the people, learning the reasons for their disillusionment with the process and helping them in realizing the fact that democracy is not complete until everyone is part of it. The day is also utilized to spread awareness among voters regarding effective participation in the electoral process. The Pledge that the new voters take on this day is a reaffirmation of our faith in ourselves, our country and democracy.
Till date Election Commission of India has conducted 15 General Elections to the Lok Sabha and many general elections to State Legislative Assemblies, thus facilitating peaceful, orderly and democratic transfer of power. Added to this list are the elections to top constitutional positions, to Rajya Sabha and State legislative councils. In its effort to conduct free, fair and transparent polls, the Commission fiercely guards its credibility, besides ensuring the vote of every eligible Indian to count. It faces the new challenge now to conduct the next Lok Sabha elections this year amidst the rise of new political fronts led by young, educated, techno savvy leaders backed by young voters. According to the 2011 Census, the first-time voter number is a staggering 149.36 million. That’s well over 20% of the 725 million voters the Election Commission (EC) reckons will be eligible to vote in 2014.The total number first-time voters is likely to swell by May 2014 to around 160 million (the census was held in 2011).
Considering this mammoth election management exercise in the world, the Election Commission is concerned about greater participation of citizens in the country’s electoral process as against the present level of apathy and non-involvement among certain sections, especially the youth. In particular, the Commission has found that the new voters (18+) are missing from the electoral roll in a big way year after year. In certain cases, the level of their enrolment is as low as 20 to 25%.
In order to effectively deal with this problem, the Commission has initiated a vigorous exercise to identify all the eligible voters attaining the age of 18 years as on 1st of January every year, in each of the 8.5 lakh polling station areas of the country. Besides registration, these newly enrolled voters are also administered a pledge that goes as follows: “We, the citizens of India, having abiding faith in democracy, hereby pledge to uphold the democratic traditions of our country and the dignity of free, fair and peaceful elections, and to vote in every election fearlessly and without being influenced by considerations of religion, race, caste, community, language or any inducement”. Moreover, the newly enrolled voters are given a badge with the slogan “Proud to be a voter – Ready to vote” during the felicitation ceremony along with their EPIC. This process is expected to give the youth a sense of citizenship, empowerment, pride and participation and also inspire them to exercise their franchise, when the occasion comes.
In keeping with the objectives of the National Voters’ Day, a countrywide special campaign is taken up to reach out to the newly eligible (18+) electors, and to register them in the electoral roll. The Chief Electoral Officers (CEO’s) of all states and UT’s have been instructed by the commission from time to time, to enroll every youth who has attained the age of 18. The Commission has specially been impressing upon the fact that as many women voters as possible need to be enrolled. Without the participation of women, a significant proportion of our country’s population remains on the fringe of democracy.
Through the National Voters’ Day, we have been able to somewhat bridge the widest gap in our electoral roll– the under registration of the newly eligible electors. All this has been accomplished through the laudable efforts and sustained hard work of the election machinery right from Chief Electoral officer in the state down to the Booth Level Officer and with the sustained SVEEP campaign, which stands for ‘Systematic Voters Education and Electoral Participation’. Election Commission of India has launched various campaigns under our SVEEP programme, to disseminate necessary information, motivate voters and facilitate participation. The messages from the youth icons, namely, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Former President of India, Shri M.S. Dhoni, and Shri Virat Kohli of Indian Cricket Team, Olympic medallists Ms. Saina Nehwal, Ms. M.C. Mary urging the eligible voters to get registered, are being used in the campaign. Messages from the regional icons are also being used to ask the youth to register and vote.
The occasion has surely turned out to be momentous thereby bringing home the point that to ensure democratic government of the people, for the people and by the people one needs to understand Vote is our Right and Might. All the major issues relating to elections such as corruption, casteism, communalism and the like continue to draw attention because of the apathy and poor participation of the ordinary populace in elections. Certainly the message from the Commission is loud and clear: it will not relent until every single eligible voter is able to- and is willing to- vote.
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