Many schoolchildren in Lucknow could get extra marks for attendance in their next exam.
Not their own classroom attendance, though, but their parents’ attendance at the election booths on Wednesday.
As the Lucknow administration and the Election Commission desperately try to shake the constituency out of its historical apathy to voting, half a dozen private schools have hit upon an innovative plan to do their bit to help.
“We have decided to award extra marks to students if their parents vote in this year’s Lok Sabha election,” said Rakesh Chattree, principal of Christ Church College school.
St Joseph Inter College principal Anil Agarwal said his school would call a parent-teacher meeting shortly after the vote “to identify the parents who voted”.
“We have decided to give five extra marks to the students of Class IX and X and 10 marks to the students of Classes I to VIII,” Agarwal said.
A senior educationist told The Telegraph that awarding such extra marks would be “discriminatory and unethical”.
“How can you assess a student’s performance on the basis of what his parents did? It’s unfair to mix up the two. Besides, voting should be voluntary,” said Basudev Yadav, former director of the Uttar Pradesh department of basic and secondary education.
Asked whether someone could move court against these schools, Allahabad High Court lawyer Ajay Pande said this was unlikely.
“After all, schools award marks on the basis of internal assessment too. But yes, had government authorities awarded such extra marks in board exams, someone would surely have moved court citing discrimination,” he said.
District magistrate Raj Shekhar had earlier appealed to all schools to help raise voter awareness so that Lucknow could improve on its dismal turnouts in past mid-summer elections.
If the polling percentage was 40.56 in the last Lok Sabha elections, it was a mere 35.28 in 2004 despite star candidate Atal Bihari Vajpayee exhorting Lucknovites to step out and vote.
Vajpayee won with 56.12 per cent of the votes cast, but it was an embarrassment for the outgoing Prime Minister that nearly two-thirds of his constituency’s voters were just not interested.
Satish Bharadwaj, professor of sociology at Kanpur University, blamed the relative affluence of Lucknow’s residents and the scorching April-May heat.
“A large section of the city’s voters are government or private job holders and small or big businessmen or contractors and their families. The temperatures in Lucknow rise well above 40 degrees Celsius in mid-summer,” he said.
“These families are reluctant to step out in the sun to vote, which may take several hours because of long queues.”
His theory is corroborated by the 56.51 turnout in the 2012 Assembly elections, which were held in early March when the temperatures are much lower.
Shekhar, the district magistrate, has therefore been shooting off text messages to voters at regular intervals on the arrangements made to help people vote without hassles.
Poll panel volunteers and district officials have jointly launched a drive to motivate voters through marches, street-corner campaigns and workshops.
Bharadwaj believes the turnout could be higher this time because of changed political circumstances.
“During Vajpayee’s time, even many of his diehard supporters would not bother to vote because he had no competition. The situation is changing now,” he said.
Lucknow faces a five-way battle between BJP president Rajnath Singh, the Congress’s Rita Bahuguna Joshi, Aam Aadmi Party candidate Jaaved Jaaferi, the Bahujan Samaj Party’s Nakul Dubey and the Samajwadi Party’s Abhishek Mishra.
The constituency’s 18 lakh voters include 4 lakh Muslims, 1.25 lakh migrants from Uttarakhand, two lakh Brahmins, and a mixed group of upper and backward castes, Dalits and settlers from other states.
Sheila Kaul was the last Congress winner from here in 1984. In 1989, Lucknow voted for Janata Dal candidate Mandhata Singh. Vajpayee won every time between 1991 and 2004. After his retirement, his loyalist Lalji Tandon won in 2009.