The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Stalwart seat, thin turnout

Lucknow, May 7: Voters in Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s constituency have ignored his plea to vote in “overwhelming numbers”.

The turnout figure of 43 per cent, announced by Uttar Pradesh chief election commissioner Vijay Sharma hours after Wednesday’s voting, was itself 5 per cent lower than that recorded during the 1999 elections. Official figures released by the Election Commission today put the turnout much lower at 35.5 per cent.

Voters have always been apathetic here, but the gruelling heat, irregularities in the voters’ list and the absence of a strong candidate who could have given the Prime Minister a tough fight as happened five years ago contributed to the lack of interest and participation.

A number of Muslims and youngsters are believed to have given voting the miss, with neither Congress-backed Independent Ram Jethmalani nor Samajwadi Party candidate Madhu Gupta capturing the voters’ imagination.

Many voters might have also been put off by the April 12 stampede in which 26 people were crushed to death as saris were being distributed to mark the birthday of senior BJP leader Lalji Tandon. The leader was Vajpayee’s campaign minder at the time.

Five years ago, the Congress’ Karan Singh gave the Prime Minister a good fight and it was perhaps no coincidence that the voter turnout then was a much healthier 48.57 per cent.

Vajpayee, who won the seat for the fourth consecutive time that year, polled 48.11 per cent votes, 9.71 per cent down from his 1998 figure. Singh would have won if his votes had been tagged with that of the third-placed Samajwadi Party candidate. As such, the Prime Minister triumphed by 150,000 votes, nearly a lakh fewer than the previous year.

In 1998, Lucknow witnessed a 49.81 per cent turnout as Muzaffar Ali took on Vajpayee. The figure was marginally higher in 1996 — 51.73 per cent — when Raj Babbar contested against the BJP leader. However, the 1991 turnout — a meagre 33.23 per cent — was lower than Wednesday’s figure. Ranjeet Singh was Vajpayee’s opponent at the time.

In 1989, the Uttar Pradesh capital recorded a lower turnout — 29.67 per cent — than in 1991, but Vajpayee was not in the fray then. The 2004 figure is lower than the 38.15 per cent turnout in 1980 when Sheila Kaul represented Lucknow. When H.. Bahugana fought from here in 1977 after Emergency was lifted, 54.21 per cent turned up to vote.

There were booths in the Chowk, Amenabad and City areas where the turnout was less than 20 per cent. Barely 500 out of 2,000 registered voters at a Chowk booth turned out to vote.

Jethmalani and Gupta may have failed to enthuse Muslims, but youngsters in Hindu areas did not turn up as well. Even Dalibag, Park Road and Mall Avenue, where a number of bureaucrats live, recorded a poor turnout.

Fearing a low turnout in this high-profile constituency, Vajpayee had addressed mohalla meetings in the run-up to the May 5 election, urging people to vote in large numbers. He issued another appeal on voting day. “I am ready to respect their verdict whatever that may be,” the Prime Minister said, but failed to persuade them to vote.

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