New Delhi, May 21 -- The fifth phase of the General Elections, held on Monday, witnessed a decent voter turnout of over 60 per cent, encompassing 49 parliamentary constituencies across six states and two Union Territories (UTs). Thus far, the polling is complete for 428 parliamentary constituencies, alongside legislative assembly voting in certain states. The matter of fact is that the much-awaited, mammoth electoral exercise is approaching its business end, with fates of parties and candidates already being sealed in large parts of the country. The fifth phase stood out in terms of heavyweight seats, including Rae Bareli and Amethi - providing the momentum that should characterise this stage of elections.

However, contrary to the general anticipation, the voting percentage in the first four phases this year has been lower than in the 2019 General Elections. The lower turnout has been registered despite active arrangements and modification to deal with scorching weather. An obvious explanation arises out of the theory of long-persisting urban apathy. This theory is corroborated by the pattern of voting witnessed in numerous urban clusters including cities like Mumbai, Thane, Nashik, Lucknow etc. Maharashtra recorded a turnout of 54.33 per cent, significantly below the national average. The degree of voters' participation in elections defines the strength of democracy, and people's trust in it. It is incumbent upon the election machinery to address this issue on a comprehensive scale.

Standing true to its reputation of being a politically aware and active state, West Bengal, in contrast, saw the highest voter turnout of about 76 per cent. This high engagement, however, was marred by reports of violence and clashes between supporters of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Incidents in constituencies like Barrackpore, Bongaon, and Arambagh highlighted the tense political atmosphere in the state. The Election Commission (EC) received over a thousand complaints regarding electronic voting machine (EVM) malfunctions and other irregularities, indicating significant operational challenges. Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, with voter turnouts of 54.85 per cent and 57.79 per cent respectively, also reflected a mixed scenario. In Uttar Pradesh, too, the Congress reported issues such as EVM glitches and alleged voter suppression, which could potentially impact the results in the high-profile battlegrounds in the state. It is unfortunate that such glitches, although at a meagre scale, still exist in the country.

On a positive note, voting among electorates in the region where local issues are known to dominate has been quite impressive. The degree of prominence associated with regional issues has a great potential to determine the trajectory of election outcomes. The BJP's dominance in the 2019 elections is under renewed scrutiny this time, with the party facing considerable competition. The Congress is attempting to regain its footing through alliances and focused campaigning. The regional parties, such as the TMC in West Bengal and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) in Bihar, are leveraging local issues and leadership to challenge the BJP's hegemony. In Maharashtra, the political realignment has created a complex battleground.

Looking ahead, the sixth phase on May 25 will include 58 constituencies across eight states and UTs, with the final phase on June 1. The outcomes of these phases, along with the counting on June 4, will ultimately define the political trajectory of India for the next five years. The stakes are high, and the varied voter turnouts reflect the diverse political engagement across the nation.

Published by HT Digital Content Services with permission from Millennium Post.