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Karnataka polls: Parties fear low voting on 2nd Saturday-weekend

Second Saturday of the month is a holiday for state government employees and banks, besides IT and biotech firms, which makes them get away and skip voting as it may not be a priority


Mainstream political parties like the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) fear a lower turnout in the Karnataka assembly elections as voting is scheduled for May 12 -- a second Saturday when all government offices and quite a few in the private sector are closed.

"It would have been better if polling was on a working day than on a weekend, which can affect voter participation, especially in urban constituencies where people tend to get away because the following day is a Sunday," BJP state spokesman Vamanacharya told IANS.

The Election Commission on March 27 announced the poll schedule for the 224 assembly segments across the southern state in mid-summer when the average day temperature is expected to be above 40 degrees Celsius.

As in the previous assembly election, held on May 5, 2013, polling will be in a single phase this time too, and the vote count is scheduled for May 15.

"Voting on a weekday would have been convenient to lakhs of working people, including thousands of techies in this tech hub as they get a paid holiday to exercise their democratic right," asserted Vamanacharya.

For instance, most of the 250,000 IT professionals working in Bengaluru get away on weekends to unwind at holiday resorts, tourist spots and wildlife reserves, or go sight-seeing to the nearby Nandi Hills or visit other cities.

As India's Silicon Valley, Bengaluru is home to about 2,000 IT firms and 750 multinationals.

Second Saturday of the month is also a holiday for state government employees and banks, besides IT and biotech firms, which makes them get away and skip voting as it may not be a priority.

Concurring with the BJP on the poll date, the ruling Congress is also wary of the weekend fallout on the voting percentage in cities like Bengaluru, which has 28 assembly segments.

"Polling on a Saturday is worrisome as it will affect the turnout at the booths, as many citizens, especially the youth, would prefer getaways than staying back and go to vote," Congress state unit vice president B.K. Chandrashekar told IANS here.

The voter turnout in the last assembly election was 71 per cent.

The Election Commission has, however, ruled out a change in the poll date, concerns of lower voter turnout notwithstanding.

"EC changing the poll date is unlikely as it is decided after factoring exams, public holidays, festivals and other events," state Additional Chief Electoral Officer K.G. Jagadeesha told IANS.

The Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S), a regional party, however, feels the BJP or Congress should not be complaining, as the poll date was decided after the EC had consulted them too.

When the poll panel consulted the parties on the poll date, BJP and Congress representatives had mentioned that any day except Sunday was suitable.

"Parties complaining is only to find an excuse for their weaknesses," JD-S state spokesman Ramesh Babu told IANS.

Meanwhile, renowned historian Ramachandra Guha said the country had witnessed assembly polls even on a Sunday in the past.

"I don't think the day or date has much effect on the number of voters as we've seen elections with high voter percentage," Guha said candidly.

Political scientist Sandeep Shastri said it was the responsibility of the parties to get the urban electorate to vote.

The voting percentage in Bengaluru has been the lowest in the state (less than 50 per cent) for the past 35 years, as there is apathy to polling because urban voters are cynical about the politics without understanding, Shastri asserted.

"I would blame the political parties for not being able to get voters to cast their ballot by raising the right issues that concern citizens," he added.

Compared to the voter turnouts in the West, like the US (55 per cent in the 2016 presidential election), Indian states fare better, Shastri noted.

According to Srinivas Alavilli, a volunteer coordinator for Citizens for Bengaluru, a city-based people's forum, urban voters' data tends to be inaccurate with the people moving within and out of the city each year, and hence the voter turnout percentage does not often reflect the true number.

"Many people from Bengaluru don't vote because they don't see any political party addressing their issues. Through a citizens' manifesto, we have been trying to make our demands heard by political parties," Alavilli stated.

Only when political parties address the people's issues can the voter turnout go up, he averred.