New Delhi went to polls today … I mean literally. Voter turn out is 64% for the 2014 elections compared to about 52% in 2009. Pundits say high voter turn out is a sign of anti incumbency vote. That may be so, but I also think it reflects growing social engagement on the part of the Indian electorate over the past couple of years. Emergence of anti corruption movement and formation of Aam Admi Party (Party of the Common Man) is just one manifestation.
The past seven years have seen a highly activist government. The IHDS-II records a growth people’s engagement with government in a variety of arenas. Among the households containing any elderly members, only 17% received any government benefits in 2004-5, in 2012 nearly 31% housheolds received some benefits — mostly social pensions for the elderly. Initiation of Janani Suraksha Yojana (Maternal Safety Scheme) provides cash transfers to mothers who deliver in hospitals and hospital delivery rates reached nearly 70%, up by 20 percentage points between 2004-5 and 2012. Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act has given employment to a quarter of the rural households.
This increased direct engagement with government via government programs has made government far more salient to people’s lives today than it used be in 2004 and 2009. Could it also account for some of the increase in voter turnout?