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Home > Assembly Elections > Report

Delhi voters enjoy a holiday

Ehtasham Khan and Amberish K Diwanji | December 01, 2003 11:53 IST
Last Updated: December 01, 2003 17:48 IST


Elections in Delhi reflected the fact that the nation's capital is quite different from the rest of India.

This largely urban territory, which is demanding that it be declared a state with executive powers rather than just stay a union territory with limited powers, was mostly peaceful and quiet, and with the least turnout compared to Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh.

Aiding the calm was the fact that Lieutenant Governor Vijai Kapoor had announced a public holiday and ordered shops to remain shut. The city wore an eerie look as streets that are normally packed on Mondays were virtually deserted; and the shopping areas were devoid of people.

Of Delhi's approximately 15 million people, 8.4 million were entitled to vote for the 70 assembly seats.

In the morning and early afternoon, the turnout on a cold wintry day was low, and this surprised no one.

"They will come out later in the afternoon," said Prakash, a Congress worker manning a stall outside a polling station in Gole Market. In this constituency, Bharatiya Janata Party candidate Poonam Azad, wife of former India cricketer Kirti Azad, faces Congress candidate and Chief Minister Sheila Dixit.

Traditionally, on cold days, most voters come out in the afternoon after the household chores are done and lunch served and also to take advantage of the warm sun. In summers, it is the other way around and the aim is to avoid the sun. But some people come out early in the morning and vote, as soon as the polling stations and booths are thrown open to the public at 8 am. Voting ends at 5 pm, the last hour is invariably the busiest hour, with people making a desperate beeline to their stations.

At Gole Market, till early noon, only about 25 per cent had cast their vote, though people were still lining up to find their names on the voters' list.

Voters started coming in at a polling booth in Malviya Nagar, constituency of former Congress minister Yoganand Shashtri in south Delhi, only after 10 am and till afternoon, hardly 25 per cent had reached the booths.

As part of the security measures imposed by the police and Election Commission, vehicles have to be kept at least 200 metres from the polling stations. Moreover, various instruments are not allowed inside the polling stations for security reasons. But such restrictions led to more problems, especially when it concerned mobile phones, which are so much part of urban life today.

Policemen on patrol duty or posted at the polling stations dotting the city were in a relaxed mood. Though there were reports of some minor trouble in certain parts of Delhi, they were sorted out by noon.

Each voter must vote at a specific polling station as demarcated by a number allotted to him or her by the Election Commission.

The polling station is usually near his place of residence. To assist the voters find their names and the polling station marked for them, both the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party workers had put benches outside the polling stations. The workers then helped the voters find their names on the list and their number. Other parties were conspicuous by their absence, making it clear that the battle is only between the ruling Congress and BJP.

Voters arrived in twos or threes, by foot or on scooters, stood in queue peacefully to vote and left silently. As is the norm, the poor were out more than the middle class, while rich were few and far between.

Satpal Singh, a constable at a Malviya Nagar booth, said everything was calm and normal. "People are coming one by one and voting." In 1998, this same booth had witnessed violence.

At another middle-class neighbourhood, Kasturba Nagar, in south Delhi, just 51 out of 409 voters had come to vote by noon. The afternoon saw a marginal increase. Presiding Officer Chandra Lal, who has been managing elections since 1977, said people were gradually losing interest.

At the booth on the Jamia Milia Islamia premises, voter turnout was extremely low. Just 20 per cent had voted by afternoon, and by close of day the figure was closer to 40 per cent. This Muslim-dominated university area in the past would normally see a high turnout.

The presiding officer in Tughlaqabad was surprised by the lack of enthusiasm in his area. A mere 28 per cent of the voters had cast their vote in one booth, and that was the highest in the area, by afternoon.

"There was a rush in the morning but it gradually slowed down. Generally the polling percentage in this booth is 60 to 70 percent, even 80 per cent. I am surprised by the low turnout here," he said.

In Moti Nagar, where veteran BJP leader and chief minister aspirant Madan Lal Khurana faces rookie Alka Lamba, voter turnout was slightly higher, crossing the 50 per cent mark.

The most common complaints were that names were missing from the voters' list. "I have voted from here in 1998 but now I find my name missing," lamented Nand Lal, showing his voter identity card. His wife, Akmidevi, said that when the electoral officers had visited their house, she was not in and though they had left word with the neighbours that they would return, they never did.

But after Nandlal visited the polling station, he found his and his wife's name on list with the presiding officer.

Manoj, a BJP worker in Moti Nagar, said they had received at least 50 such complaints. "I can understand when this happens in the posh areas because there people keep getting transferred in their jobs. But Moti Nagar is a middle-class locality and few people move out or in. So why should the names be missing from the list?" he asked.

Okhla, another Muslim-dominated area, also saw a low turnout. Kamran Siddiqui, who runs a voluntary group Common Cause, claimed turnout in Okhla was low because the polling booths were situated far from the residential area.

He said: "All the eight booths have been shifted to one place called Canal Colony. People don't have time to go so far. So nobody is bothered." Siddiqui had formed a helpline to help people locate their names in the voters' list.

There was a minor tiff between Congress and Samajwadi Party supporters in Okhla, one of the 22 sensitive areas identified by the police.


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