The right to vote is a constitutional right guaranteed to all citizens of India, and one would expect that the more educated or urbanised the person, the greater are his/her chances of voting. However, the reality is the country has been seeing a steady decline in voter participation and voter turnout, especially in urban areas. To take on this paradox, especially with the general...
Access the exclusive LEGAL ERAStories,Editorial and Expert Opinion
The right to vote is a constitutional right guaranteed to all citizens of India, and one would expect that the more educated or urbanised the person, the greater are his/her chances of voting. However, the reality is the country has been seeing a steady decline in voter participation and voter turnout, especially in urban areas.
To take on this paradox, especially with the general elections just round the corner, LegalEra, a proponent of individual rights and freedoms, has joined forces with the Election Commission of India (ECI), Centre for Ethical Life & Leadership (CELL), ASSOCHAM, CII, FICCI, NASSCOM, NASSCOM Foundation (NF), Volunteer for a Better India (VBI), Bangalore Political Action Committee (BPAC) and TV18 in an initiative christened 'India Voting Coalition'aimed at increasing representative democracy by targeting urban voter apathy, specifically in the corporate sector.
The India Voting Coalition is spearheaded by Hitesh S. Barot, Senior Consulting Director, CELL, where Dr. S.Y. Quraishi, former Chief Election Commissioner serves as the Honorary Chairman. On 25th January, 2014, President Shri Pranab Mukherjee, speaking on the occasion of National Voter's Day highlighted the importance of including Corporate India in voter registration.
Urban voter apathy is much of a shame and concern. We have often heard people bragging that they have never voted in their life. This apathy is shocking. This must change. Those who do not go out to vote should be made to feel embarrassed and those who have never registered should do so.
Dr. SY Quraishi, Former Chief Election Commissioner
The Chief Election Commissioner of India, V S Sampath, lauded the participation of the private sector to enhance electoral participation in the country. "There is hardly any cause that deserves a higher place in CSR. I always felt that a major contribution in the field of voter education and awareness is due from the vibrant and resourceful industrial and business houses. The action starts from home with registration and voting of their own staff and employees," he said.
In early February, the Election Commission granted permission to the India Voting Coalition to conduct voter drives. ECI helped launch the industry partnership and the indiavoting.org campaign was off and running with tweets from the likes of Sam Pitroda to Shekhar Kapur. Over 1.5 lakh corporate employees utilised the service in the just 5 weeks that campaign was active. Aggregating for the various college, individual housing societies and door to door campaigns throughout India by the partnering entities VBI and BPAC, the number of voters registered includes an additional 2.5 lakh citizen.
Significantly, the coalition members have been able to provide a strong push in metro regions, where many corporate campuses exist. Through facilitation partner, Volunteer for a Better India, the reach extended into 133 constituencies across the interiors of India as well. As Vasudha Jhunjhunwala, National Campaign Manager, I Vote For Better India, explains there is only a 10% margin by which many candidate wins an election. For the remaining 90% people, it is only that 10% that are making the choice. The first brick of democracy is laid when people participate by exercising their right to vote. Only when people participate can a strong foundation be laid for better India. When I vote for my country, I say I care for my country.
The corporate participation has been primarily in Kolkata, the greater National Capital Region, greater Mumbai area, Pune, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Chennai. By way of illustration, heavyweights, by employee-size, like ICICI Bank, Reliance Industries, Tata Consulting Services, Maruti, Capgemini as well as mid-sized companies like Ernst & Young, Google and Videocon participated constitute the list of participating corporates. Through the reach of the chambers, even 20 person organizations joined the campaign. FICCI's Delhi office even held a drive of its own to afford its own employees a chance to register to vote.
This coming election will have large number of first time voters and we have to take our voter population up from what was in 50s to 80s, we need people to be involved. Hitesh approached me and wondered how can we scale this up? I responded that the best way to do is to ask our NASSCOM companies the 32 lakh people that work in our industry. If we can get that population excited, we can get this done. One of the biggest problem that we have is that people say, I am a transient and I moved from one city to another and I don't have a voter id. So our basic purpose was to encourage and facilitate our employees in order to make it easier to get registration done.
Som Mittal, Former President, NASSCOM
"Feel the pride and exhilaration on each voting day, like it is your first," expressed Independent India's First Voter, Shyam Saran Negi, 97-yr-old and still moving with the changing time. Negi lives in Himachal but nothing could hold him back from voting. "Today is a very special day", the man said on every Election Day.
At the recent 'Voter Awareness & Registration Initiative' launch organised by IndiaVoting in conjunction with Election Commission of India, held at FICCI, Dr. Nasim Zaidi, Election Commissioner, pointed out that the gender gap in registration and voter turnout, urban apathy to electoral participation, and youth disconnect with the electoral process have emerged as the biggest challenge. For running of any successful democracy, voters' participation is the core and integral part as well as the basis of wholesome democratic elections.
In a CNBC feature highlighting corporate participation in the IndiaVoting campaign, Hitesh Barot pointed out in many cases ignorance as to the mechanisms of voter registration led young/new voters to fear the process. "We needed to educate the masses that it is not really complicated in terms of documentation required." He poignantly added that "one cannot jago jago one fine day and go vote, unless he/she actually registered a few months before. So we have to go upstream and jagao them to get a card first."
Dr. Zaidi explained that the Systematic Voter Education and Electoral Participation (SVEEP) formulates policies, lays down the framework, plans interventions, and monitors implementation besides carrying out continuous discourse with the voting public, civil society groups and media. It handles work related to all aspects of voter awareness and education aimed at improving electoral participation in the country and building a culture of participative democracy among citizens. SVEEP's main motive is to have every eligible citizen on the electoral roll and to exercise his or her franchise voluntarily, and to create a continuous universal climate of citizen's democratic and ethical participation in the electoral process. It is through the SVEEP campaign that the partnership with industry bodies was achieved.
Tanya Kewalramani, Creative Director at CELL, lauded steps taken towards proactive democracy and expressed appreciation of all our partners, especially the Election Commission of India for making this happen. We are happy that this initiative CELL found resonance with FICCI, NASSCOM, CII & ASSOCHAM and that everyone came together for this noble cause. All of us at @IndiaVoting2014 are humbled by the response to the campaign.
In some limited cases, where some resistance from local election officials stalled the form collection processing, timely intervention from Election Commission officials in Delhi provided for smooth submission. A template has now been created for strong private public partnerships for increased collaboration between industry, its chambers, the social sector, the Election Commission of India and most importantly the noble and patriotic individual volunteer. In addition to the voters registered, the coalition has also created a strong increased awareness in the corporate sector around the right to vote.
Who other than the legal fraternity to help fight urban apathy by bringing about greater participation from India Inc.'s employee base? LegalEra thereby proudly partnered with the IndiaVoting coalition. This campaign was a call to action asking employees to exercise their right to vote, but more importantly a call to industry leaders to give momentum by pledging to set up a voter facilitation desk and start collecting forms. The campaign will now shift its focus to voter awareness.
Aakriti Raizada, Founder & Managing Editor, LegalEra Magazine
Akshay Rout, Director General, Election Commission of India, said that the launch of the partnership will help to integrate corporate India into the SVEEP framework. With this initiative, the Election Commission and the corporate sector will work in an organized way which will also help in just reaching out to the youth who must be enrolled in a big way to increase the overall voter turnout. Corporates can engage their resources to get into the community and motivate people to register and vote. He affirmed that there has been a continuous dialogue with Indian citizens by the Election Commission and other associate bodies and social cells to create awareness about voter facilitation in areas of registration and issuing voter identity cards. And now the corporate sector of India is also a part of this process.
Dr. Didar Singh, Secretary General, Ficci, said that Voter Participation is the key to the democratic process of elections. Every measure needs to be taken to ensure that those eligible to vote are not only registered but do cast their vote. FICCI took a small step by collaborating with Election Commission of India to facilitate Voter registration of its employees as well as that of its member companies. This got tremendous response and over 150,000 registrations were submitted to ECI. FICCI has also set up a task force under the chairmanship of Dr. S Y Quraishi, Former Chief Election Commissioner to look into various Electoral Reforms including measures to be taken to reduce voter apathy.
Rita Soni, Ceo, Nasscom Foundation, said that We received tremendous interest and support from the NASSCOM fraternity, with about 30 NASSCOM companies, representing the largest employers, partnering with us for voter registration coalition. Under the banner of MyKartavya (duty), thousands of our employees at an average age of 27 were empowered to register, breaking the cycle of voter apathy. The fact that we received official sanction from the ECI gave the IT-BPM sector even greater impetus to engage, thanks to the herculean effort of CELL.
Hitesh S. Barot, Senior Consulting Director, CELL & IP Attorney, said that It is never simple to leave the financial security of a multi-national, but the opportunity to organize a campaign that would actually have real impact was too tempting to pass up. Using my corporate background and advocacy skills to motivate the coalition partners, industry bodies and the Election Commission seemed easy on paper, but hammering out an actual agreement took considerable time and much persuasion. Now that is has all come together, it is very fulfilling and we can now concentrate on the awareness phase.
The precedent has been set for corporate and ECI partnerships. In the coming elections such template for collaboration can be built upon and also include the colleges. The persuasiveness and dedication of a small group of individuals to come together and be the change they want to see in the world has truly borne fruit in the case of IndiaVoting.