Voting percentage flies in the face of literacy rates

For all those Indians, who were impatiently waiting for the literacy rates to go up and help the Indian democratic system get stronger, the trends from the first Lok Sabha elections to the outcome of the present General Election unfortunately defies the belief.

As of 2001 Census, almost two-thirds of the country's population is now literate. But, the percentage of voters who exercise their franchise has gone down steeply. Dora Babu Tadepalli, Assistant Professor of Social Sciences, Group of Adult Education, Jawaharlal Nehru University, feels that the lack of good people in politics has made the general voter disinterested in the polling process. "With the growth in literacy rates people are becoming more aware, but this growth is not corresponding to the voting turnout in India, because of lack of quality candidates," he explains.

Between 1961 and 1991, during a span of thirty years, literacy rates have gone up by 23.9%, from 28.3% in 1961 to 52.2% in 1991. However, the same could not correspond to the voting figures, which either remained static or went down further. Except the General Elections in 1984 which took place after the assassination of Indira Gandhi the impressive voting turnout of 63.6%, the best ever so far, materialised during the national hour of grief and anger. Dr Anand Pradhan, Associate Professor, Feature Communication, Indian Institute of Mass Communication, New Delhi, feels "It is very difficult to establish this kind of relationship (between literacy levels and voting percentage), but, it is more related to the socio-economic conditions of the voter. Unless there is a significant change in the economic backgrounds, literacy levels alone cannot catapult the voting percentage in the country," he says.

In 1951, when the crude literacy rate stood at a meager 16.7%, lowest ever since independence, the voting percentage was at a fairly good mark with 61.2% in 1952. According to professor Shiv Prakash, Dean, School of Arts and Aesthetics, JNU, increasing commercialisation in our culture is responsible for the apathy of voters despite the high literacy levels. "The reason why literacy is not resulting in the political education for the last several decades is that there is no awareness on the political front," opines Prakash. He feels that with the changing values in the society, making quick bucks has become a priority for our youngsters making them uninterested in politics . "If you see the voting patterns, rural people have been voting more than their urban counterparts, which illustrates why literacy alone is not sufficient enough to ensure a good voter turnout," he emphasises. Indeed negating the widespread belief that an upward trend in the literacy rate would translate into higher voter turnout.

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