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For Gujarat's 73% voters, religion and caste overshadow candidates' "criminal" background: ADR survey

By Our Representative
In a clear warning on the manner in which Gujarat society is getting increasingly divided along religious and caste lines, a voter behaviour survey ahead of the state assembly polls has revealed that caste or religion is all set to play an important role in polls. Thus, said the survey, in 72.68% of cases, the survey found, caste and religion played a major role in deciding to vote for a criminal candidate.
In a related query, 70% of voters said they would ignore the criminal record of candidates because do “good work”, and a whopping 79.66% of voters said criminal cases against the candidates were "not serious." The report insisted, "Around 73% people vote for candidates facing criminal charges because they were of their own caste or religion."
Releasing the report in Ahmedabad, Maj Gen Anil Verma of the well-known advocacy group Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR) said, referring to a previous survey, that "candidates with criminal records have a 50% better chance of winning the polls than others."
Carried out among 500 voters in each district as part of an all-India survey in Spring this year, the survey further showed that only 28.19% of voters said receiving gifts from candidates was illegal, while 60.48% knew that gifts were being distributed, apparently suggesting there was nothing wrong in it. Further, a mere 17.77% of voters they were concerned about spending in elections.
When questioned what did the survey have to say about the atmosphere of fear among certain regions and marginalised communities from criminal candidates, significantly, Verma said, "We did not take the fear factor into account... It did not occur to us."
Asked what did he have to say about the Gujarat government's refusal to arrest murder accused Dinu Bogha Solanki, ex-BJP MP, despite Supreme Court order of October 30, and whether such cases have any impact on the election process, Verma said, "There are clear Supreme Court guidelines in issues apsuch as these. But we refrain from commenting on specific cases."
Pankti Jog of the Gujarat Election Watch, which partners with the ADR in Gujarat, however, suggested that there was real danger that sections of the marginalized communities may be able to vote.
"Our interactions in Saurashtra revealed that voters expressed their apprehension whether their names had remained intact in in the poll list and they would be able to vote. There was also apprehension about whether the new voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) electronic machines were fool proof", she said.
Meanwhile, Jog said, Gujarat's top Election Commission of India official, BB Swain, has rejected the demand to facilitate voting arrangement for the marginalised 6,800 salt pan workers, a denotified tribe, which lives and works in the Little Rann of Kutch for eight months in a year.
"He told us that there are no legal provisions to arrange for buses to take them to vote in their villages, which are between 50 and 100 km away from their place of shelter and work. Nor is it possible to provide mobile voting facility, he added", Jog asserted.
Seeking to highlight voter priorities, the survey suggested that, when asked to identify which developmental issues were important, better employment opportunities receive the highest score of 8.72 on a scale of 10, followed by public transport 7.65, empowerment of women 7.60, security for women 7.41, environmental issues 6.77, better electric supply 6.71, better roads 6.64, drinking water 6.61, and better law and order/ policing 6.61.
In rural areas, on a scale of 10, the issues that received a high rating included price-realization for farm products 8.58, electricity for agriculture 6.69, and irrigation programmes 6.65. On the other hand in urban areas, the issues that received a high rating included traffic congestion 7.64, 6 training for jobs 6.71, and encroachment of public land/lakes etc. 6.70.

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