48% voter turnout in Pune Vs 90% voting in Bhugaon

With the recently concluded elections in Bhugaon (a village 5 km away on the western fringe of Pune), it was heartening to see a more than 90% voter turnout. Last Sunday I witnessed the entire village out on the streets since morning, queuing up to cast their votes. The spectacle really made me think. Who are really the custodians of a robust democracy that India boasts about? The villagers, who have been relegated to the back with tags like 'uneducated', 'poor', 'illiterate' were all "literate and socially aware" to come out of their homes on a Sunday morning and participate actively in making of the government in their own small and meaningful way. While, the residents of cities tagged often as 'the educated, urbane intellectuals', want to enjoy the holiday meant for elections out of the city.

Does this mean that the so called intellectuals have given up on democracy? Or are they educated but socially illiterate? Are they so ensconced in the cocoon of their lives that they have become self centered and shut out the immediate social circle? And then, why aren't the poor villagers more inclined to do the same? After all, they have a more hand-to-mouth existence. Why are they participating in the electoral process more actively than their urban counterparts?

There are 2-3 theories which come to my mind. First and the foremost, is that the upwardly mobile urban middle class has lost faith in the power of their vote. Simply because, with any government, they can and will continue to have to buy their way out of the administrative set up! Whereas the villagers are more hopeful that a change in the government will mean a change in the way they have to deal with their issues and problems. The political and the administrative arms seem to be more cohesive in villages, where a political change will definitely bring about a change in the administration of policies in villages.

Secondly, the scale of a village seems to be working better for higher voter turnout. People know each other, there is familiarity and there seems to be social pressure to come out and vote. A city, by the sheer scale of its size and the anonymity experienced by an urban citizen is a natural social deterrent.

Thirdly, it is possible that, since so many panels were contesting, every villager was in some way or the other connected to one or more members contesting in the panels, thus causing a good voter turnout. Again, the familiarity seems to work better than the anonymity in a city.

These three points got me wondering. A Prabhag is only slightly larger than a village, though a bit more complex. Is it not a worthwhile task to build this smaller urban community on the same lines as that of a village unit - not in economic terms, of course, but for its social structure? Today, the unit of a Prabhag just comes into play at the time of elections. Rest of the time, I don't even see the word getting used and there is no conscious effort to look at its physical and human composition. The Corporator is engrossed in repairing roads and ensuring water connections and working street lights, but there seems to be very less effort toward social community development.

One thought is that keeping low voter turnout could be a strategy to avoid anti-incumbency voting. But that means that new aspirants and opposition parties should and can target community development activities as an indirect approach to increasing voting and thereby increasing the chances of bringing about a change in politics.
Second thought is the Bhugaon elections really showcased that decentralization works! Centralizing things, making cities larger and controlling cities through a top-down hierarchy seems to be a lost cause. I have always propagated that assigning political and financial responsibility to the smallest unit will always lead to better results, both for bringing in political change and ensuring administrative accountability.

I hope, for a change, Puneites can learn from the spirited elections of Bhugaon. This sleepy beautiful village, just on the threshold of urbanity has shown that the power of vote can change politics. Though not publicized like the AAP victory in Delhi, nonetheless, very important to be noted in the elephantine democracy that is India.


  1. A warm feeling of re-assurance mixed with vindication wells up in my belly as I see the new political wave called AAP rise up. I have maintained from day one into the political change process to which I devoted six years with modest results, that there are two causes that need to come together for a result we all wish to see on the political front. One, worthy candidates with clean records and professional skills need to contest elections and two, voter percentage needs to be cranked up to a healthy 75-80% to get us these guys into positions from where change can be driven. These have come together in Delhi and needs replication across. Lets see what Punekars do in 2014, with one of the two causes already in place. Jai Hind!

  2. Your third point connecting with the people certainly makes difference. I will say that is the only point why urbans are not interested. FT is also a Prabhag and can be a strength. We have already started connecting, which is good. I am not aware which of FTs problems can be solved at Grampanchayat level. But yes we have started connecting.

  3. I would also say that voting/elections are only a part of the governance story, so not voting doesn't mean you don't care, you can influence policy/politics/society in a variety of ways. More people voting may or may not really change things at a fundamental level.

  4. What is entirely shameful is that in a place like Pune,Congress and Congressmen,feel that it is a 'safe' seat.
    It is not about how corrupt,even the BJP is or how anarchial the AAP is but people voting the same 'wise men' to power time and again,is extremely annoying! As a Puneite,makes me extremely jaded! Would be interesting to see if a higher vote percentage causes any change from Congress.

  5. Can I republish your article on Pune Metro in my Blog Akshardhool. I have a page for guest authors and would like to publish it there with your blog url and full credits to you.

    You can see my blog on this url, http://www.akshardhool.com


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