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Delhi campaign to get voters out

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TV advert encouraging Indians to vote

By Geeta Pandey
BBC News, Delhi

Election officials in India's capital Delhi are urging people to cast ballots in the general election, after low turnout in previous rounds of voting.

Adverts have been running on television, radio and in the press to get the message across to vote.

Citizens groups and activists have also joined the campaign with candlelit marches and signature campaigns.

Only 44% of voters turned out in Mumbai (Bombay) last week and the authorities do not want a repeat in Delhi on 7 May.

India is voting in a marathon five-phase election which began on 16 April and will go on until 13 May. The counting of votes in on 16 May.

'Show the way'

As campaigning for the fourth phase of voting came to an end on Tuesday evening, about three dozen men gathered in a lane behind the 16th Century observatory Jantar Mantar in Delhi.

As the weather turned humid and a few drops of rain fell from the sky, the marchers lit candles and raised slogans.

"Delhi show the way - vote," they shouted.

Signature campaign by EFG, Delhi-based NGO
A signature campaign has been launched in Delhi and some other cities

"We are asking people to come out and vote. If you don't vote, you don't have the right to complain," says Professor Ratan Lal of Exercise Franchise for Good Governance (EFG).

"Whenever something like the Mumbai attack happens, the middle class people come out with candles and loudly complain and demonstrate, but they stay away when it really matters - like from voting."

So EFG, a non-governmental organisation, is doing a voter mobilisation campaign in seven Indian cities including Madurai, Agra, Madras (Chennai), Calcutta, Leh and Delhi.

The campaigners say the low voter turnout in Mumbai and Bangalore has been very disappointing.

"It's a matter of great concern that voting was so low in these cities. We are trying to make sure that the same is not repeated in Delhi," says Sumit Nandan, professor of philosophy at Hindu College.

"We're telling our students - talking won't help, voting will," he says.

Declining

Lending support to the candle-lit procession was Delhi's chief electoral officer, Satbir Silas Bedi.

Delhi has more than 10 million registered voters but over the years, voter turnout has been steadily declining - in 1993 it was 65.7%; in 1998 it came down to 49% and in the 2007 civic elections it was 43%.

Delhi Chief Electoral Officer (Mrs) Satbir Silas Bedi at the candle march in Delhi
Mrs Bedi is hoping voters will come out in large numbers

Turnout is usually lowest among the elite and the youth who use the day off to go on holidays or to watch films or visit shopping malls.

Also, many say they do not like waiting in queues.

Mrs Bedi used a multi-media advertisement campaign to get the voters out during the state assembly elections last November.

And her effort paid off.

"Nearly two million more voters turned up to vote, taking the voting percentage in the assembly elections to nearly 60%," Mrs Bedi says.

She is hoping the voters will come out in large numbers on Thursday too.

Lending support to the election authorities and the NGOs are shops in Delhi's posh Khan Market which are offering discounts between 5% and 20% to the shoppers for two days after elections.

Their only condition - the voters will have to give proof of voting, the indelible ink mark on their index finger.

Whether Delhi voters keep their date with the ballot will be known on Thursday.

But as Prof Lal says: "Bad politicians are elected by good citizens who do not vote. So take your pick."



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