The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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President poll call: Vote for a happy India

New Delhi, April 18: The President’s voice was added for the first time to a growing chorus against perceived voter indifference when A.P.J Abdul Kalam went on air this evening to appeal to all eligible citizens to give a “pleasant surprise to the nation” by turning out in large numbers at polling booths.

“Dear citizens, I appeal to all of you to go ahead and exercise your fundamental right to vote,” the President said in an address over Doordarshan and All India Radio two days before the country goes to the first round of polls.

“By casting your vote for a candidate who in your opinion can represent you in the Lok Sabha, you are sowing the seeds for the creation of a prosperous India, a happy India, a safe India, a secure India, and above all, an India with nobility,” Kalam added.

The spirited exhortation by Kalam, the first President to issue such an appeal on the eve of elections, coincides with a frenetic campaign by forums as varied as MTV and the Confederation of Indian Industry to prod voters — many of them first-timers — to the booths.

The appeals have been flowing thick and fast amid a view that voters are disenchanted with elections and they need to be made aware of their responsibility, though the contention is not borne out by turnout trends.

The voting percentage in general elections has been hovering around 60 per cent — not too distant from the highest-ever 64 per cent in 1984 when Indira Gandhi was assassinated — and was at 59.99 per cent in the last national poll.

However, the fear of voter apathy is more pronounced this time as Elections 2004 involves the largest number of “first-time” voters. A suggestion by the Election Commission that the ballot machine should also have a “none of the above” option for those who do not want to vote for any of the candidates had also added fuel to the debate on the so-called voter fatigue.

Perhaps keeping the first-time voter in his mind, the President said that he had been assured by the Election Commission that all polling officials would provide “easy-to-follow clarifications and guidance to voters… with a smile”.

The President also underscored the impact of elections —and by extension politics — on the lives of citizens. By casting the vote, “people could fulfil the aspirations of the children and youth of our nation” and create a “powerful system that will make their dreams a reality”, he said.

The President made patriotism and a sense of duty the theme of his address. “The right to vote is a sacred right and an onerous responsibility that you owe to the motherland. Hence, exercising your franchise must become a priority activity for you and you should cast your vote positively,” he said.

“In a democracy, an important principle is the equality of every citizen. Elections are an occasion when this can be demonstrated visibly. ”

Garnishing the address with the lyrical flourish usually associated with the poet-Prime Minister, Kalam said: “Dear voters, the dawn of a beautiful India is in your mind and then in your deeds. The deed for the day of the election for you is to cast your vote and be a proud contributor to the success of the spirit of democracy of the largest and dynamic democracy of all democracies.”

During the Republic Day-eve address, Kalam had appealed to voters to exercise their franchise without fear.

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