Voting without voters: Uttar Pradesh migrant workers to be home for paddy transplantation next, may skip Lok Sabha polls

Migrant workers came back home for Holi, won't be able to come back for the  crucial electoral process

By Vivek Mishra
Published: Monday 01 April 2024
Ram Milan (38) from Tharu tribe plans to stay back in his village to cast his vote. Photo: Vivek Mishra / CSE

In the heartland of Uttar Pradesh, villages in Terai and Purvanchal districts are witnessing migrant workers leaving homes for work. These districts, long considered strongholds of the state’s migrant labour force, witnessed their return in March for the festive season.

But as the workers stream back to their places of work outside Uttar Pradesh, there’s a significant challenge to the upcoming seven-phase Lok Sabha elections scheduled between April and June 2024 — a considerable portion of the state's electorate will be absent during the crucial electoral process.

There were a total of 146.1 million voters in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections in 80 Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh, out of which a total of 86.5 million (59.21 per cent) voters cast their vote. This time in 2024, the number of voters will be around 152.9 million. Out of this, 1.55 million new voters will be in the age group of 18-19 years.

Read more: Voting without voters: Bihar migrant workers forced to sacrifice ballot rights due to financial strain

An estimated 3.5 to 4 million of these voters are migrant workers, predominantly concentrated in regions like Terai and Purvanchal. Their absence during the upcoming Lok Sabha elections is expected to have a notable impact on voter turnout.

For Uttar Pradesh migrants, this period marks their prime time for working away from home, returning only during paddy transplantation season.

Down to Earth (DTE) travelled to the districts of Uttar Pradesh where most people move to other states for work and where the voting per centage in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections was less than 60 per cent.

Motipur Kalan village, dominated by the Tharu tribe, has a population of 4,500 in Shravasti district. Residents have started migrating in search of work. Villager Ramsevak (35) previously told DTE that he planned to leave with seven workers on April 1, 2024, to work at NTPC’s power plant in Pipalkoti, Uttarakhand.

“The contractor has sent a fare of Rs 2,000 per passenger. Our return to the village will now take place during the rainy season, when paddy is transplanted. Participating in the Lok Sabha elections will be extremely difficult,” he said.  

There are approximately 2,100 voters in Motipur Kalan, but the voting per centage ranges from 55 to 60 per cent, said village head Ram Sunder Chaudhary. 

“Each vote counts, especially in the Pradhan election, and I once lost by 13 votes. Workers are called to the village at their own expense during the Pradhan polls to ensure fair voting. However, this is not possible during Lok Sabha or Assembly elections. Migrant workers are less interested in it due to a lack of economic benefits and facilities,” Chaudhary said. 

Read more: Vote for 2024

If the elections had been around any festival or harvest time, migrants would be home from Delhi, Gujarat, Jammu and Kashmir, Bhutan, Uttarakhand and Himachal to participate in elections, pointed out Vijay Kumar Soni, former Kshetra Panchayat member of Motipur Kalan. 

Most of the people from this Tharu-dominated village go to work on the toughest projects running in the mountains. Ram Milan (38) belonging to the Tharu tribe, is currently in the village. After registering as a voter, he will cast his vote for the second time in the Lok Sabha elections. 

He recounted an incident from November 2023 when seven people from their village were working during a tunnel accident at Silkyara on the Yamunotri Highway in Uttarkashi. They were all trapped in the tunnel. “However, everyone was safely evacuated and has been living in the village since then,” he said. 

Santosh Kumar, one of the people who were trapped, is also now in the village. Kumar has taken up farming in his village and said he would consider leaving the village for work only next year. 

The Lok Sabha constituency of Shravasti includes Balrampur district. The Balrampur Lok Sabha seat was dissolved in 2008. It is one of the regions where the voting percentage in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections was a little over half — only about 900,000 people out of 1.9 million voters or 52.02 per cent voted. 

Munnilal Verma of Gulra village in Bahraich district worked in the construction sector in Kurla, Mumbai for two decades. He returned home in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic and has not left since. He has about 5-6 bighas of land and now he is doing farming work. 

Read more: 2024 Lok Sabha polls: With almost 50% electorate, women voters to drive elections this year

About a dozen people from Verma’s village are currently away in Mumbai for work. “There is no facility for them to return home to vote. Those with Mumbai Aadhar cards will cast their vote there,” he said. 

Similarly, migrant workers in Mukeria village of Bahraich district, which is a district with less than 60 per cent voting, also shared their experiences. Ramesh Gautam (32) said, “I work as a stonebreaker in Panvel, Mumbai. I just came home after taking 15 days’ leave but will return to work by April 4. About 50 people from the village and surrounding areas will also go with us.”

These workers will not be able to return during elections, but will come back in the rainy season as the stone breaking units are closed at that time. “It will not be possible to participate in the Lok Sabha elections by investing our own money. We will not be able to attend the elections,” he said.

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