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India’s young voters impress Nepal’s poll officials

May 02, 2014

The delegates were impressed by the initiatives taken in India to encourage more young people to vote.

Howrah: The palpable excitement of first-time voters, the high turnout of women electorate and the sheer scale of polling impressed the 14-member electoral delegation from Nepal, which visited Howrah district in West Bengal to witness poll preparations and management during the seventh phase of the India’s 16th national elections. The visit, a joint initiative of the Election Commission of India and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), was undertaken to showcase India’s electoral management skills, including technological initiatives, innovations, security arrangements and administrative planning that are integral to conducting free and fair polls in the world’s largest democracy.

At the pre-poll distribution centre in Howrah, delegates witnessed the randomization process wherein all polling officers and security personnel are allotted duty stations through a software designed to ensure maximum transparency in electoral management. Randomization is also extended to electronic voting machines, which are sent to polling stations using the same process.

The delegates were amazed by the scale of the operations. Said Keshab Prasad Adhikari, Chief Returning Officer, Election Commission of Nepal, “Almost 12,000 polling personnel converging at a single place to register themselves and collect polling materials and Electronic Voter Machines was a sight to behold. And this in just one district of the country! I can now understand the magnitude of general elections in India.”

The delegates were impressed by the initiatives taken to encourage more young people to vote. Recognizing the importance of engaging first time voters, the Election Commission undertook a country-wide campaign to encourage voters to cast their franchise. In West Bengal for example, the delegates learnt about youth mascot ‘Ananya’ created by the team of the Chief Election Officer, a carefully crafted campaign with a youthful feel which has motivated many first time voters to participate in the electoral process.

Sunil Gupta, Chief Electoral Officer, explains, “We conceptualized our mascot Ananya as a young woman who is 18 years old and is voting for the first-time. We built an entire awareness campaign around her, complete with posters and audio-visual clips, to inform young people about the importance of voting and participating wholeheartedly in a democracy.” Campaign messages were disseminated through a variety of media including radio, television and street theatre. Moreover, in order to make registration hassle free, help desks were set up at senior secondary schools and colleges. Further, stores and restaurants offered discounts to young people with voter identification cards.

These measures have paid off. Across West Bengal alone, 2.4 million first-time voters were added to the electoral rolls and they came out to exercise their franchise enthusiastically. While Ritika Santhalia, 18, said she was very “excited to vote for the first time and hoped that India would figure among the developed nations of the world soon.  “Another debutant, Vivek Singh, 18, concurred that it is “essential for young people to participate in electoral politics, know their candidates and vote for what was best for their country”.

Visibly impressed by the large turnout of young voters, Ila Sharma, Election Commissioner, Nepal, remarked, “In Nepal, we run awareness campaigns for the youth and use youth-centric mediums, such as the FM radio, songs and dances to spread the word. But I am sure this process can be made more interesting for them in a similar way.”

Delegates also interacted with women voters, many of whom were well into their 60s and 70s, and had begun queuing up early in the morning. The Election Commission has made special provision for senior citizens and disabled persons, including waiting rooms, wheelchairs, drinking water and toilet facilities. Pinky Roy, District Election Officer, Nepal remarked, “Women do participate in our elections but the numbers can definitely be improved. I was surprised to hear that in last state assembly election, more women than men had come out to vote in Bengal. The female voter here is conscientious.”

At the end of the visit, after interacting with a cross-section of voters and witnessing cutting-edge technology, like web-casting, live monitoring of sensitive areas using mobile camera units and GIS-based poll monitoring using android phones at work, Ila Sharma Election Commissioner, Nepal concluded, “This exercise has been informative. I believe that such exchange of information and ideas between South Asian nations on democratic procedures is significant. Implementation of this new knowledge would be easier given our similar backgrounds.”

SOURCE: UNDP

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