The Missing Indian Voter, how many crores of Indians are missing from the electoral rolls?

Indicators and micro studies suggest that from the vast numbers, possibly close to 13 crores of Indians missing from the electoral rolls, a vast percentage are women and significant sections are then Dalits and Muslims

In a rapidly evolving democratic landscape, the integrity of electoral rolls and the fairness of elections are foundational principles necessary for the very essence of democracy. Recent revelations and research in India have brought to light alarming issues surrounding electoral rolls, voter disenfranchisement, and potential manipulation of the democratic process. As we move forward, it becomes evident that the sanctity of electoral rolls, has consistently now faced scrutiny as news of irregularities arises. This examination will shed light on the multifaceted functions of electoral rolls, instances of missing names, allegations of manipulation, and the profound implications these issues hold for the democratic fabric of India.

Source: ECI

What are the functions of an electoral roll? 

An electoral roll is referred to a compilation of names that outlines individuals who are eligible to vote in specific elections in specific regions. This list is usually categorised by electoral districts and is primarily created to aid election officials at polling locations. Many jurisdictions maintain permanent electoral rolls, which are consistently or periodically updated and some regions create new electoral rolls prior to each election. Electoral rolls are the end product from a voter registration process. The Election Commission of India handles these tasks in India.

Electoral rolls and voter registration serve multifaceted purposes. The process of voter registration not only helps authorities in verifying the identity and voting eligibility of applicants to prevent electoral fraud, but also ensures the prevention of multiple voting instances. In jurisdictions where voting is obligatory, the electoral roll is considered as a crucial tool for identifying individuals who haven’t fulfilled this requirement.

In recent reports, India’s democratic status has faced criticism from various organisations. Freedom House, a US-based non-profit, downgraded India to a “partially free democracy” in its annual report on global political rights and liberties. Meanwhile, the V-Dem Institute in Sweden went further, categorising India as an “electoral autocracy” in its latest assessment, according to the BBC

These rankings attribute the decline in India’s democratic health to the leadership of Prime Minister Modi and BJP government. Critics argue that his tenure has witnessed increased pressure on human rights groups, intimidation of journalists and activists, and a rise in attacks, particularly targeting the Muslim community.

Recently, instances of malpractices within electoral rolls have raised concerns about potential democratic backsliding in India. Accurate and transparent electoral rolls are essential for maintaining the integrity of the democratic process. Irregularities like inaccuracies, duplicate entries, and deliberate manipulation can severely undermine the credibility of elections, erode public trust, and lead to a decline in democratic values. To ensure a robust democratic system, it’s crucial for India to address these issues, strengthen voter registration procedures, and uphold the principles of fairness and accountability in its electoral processes.

The right to vote stands as a significant right for citizens in a democratic setup. Alarmingly, recent research has unveiled that millions of Indians lose their eligibility to vote. Although the issue of missing names from electoral rolls isn’t novel, the magnitude of this problem in the current election is deeply concerning. A substantial portion of those abruptly disenfranchised comes from communities that have endured difficulties under the existing administration and are less likely to support the BJP such as Dalits and Muslims. In a closely contested election where both the BJP and the opposition strive fervently for victory, the very possible potential for dubious activities cannot be dismissed with enquiry. The unspoken query, even feared by political parties, revolves around whether the BJP is tactfully purging particular communities at the booth level to secure a triumph for itself.

Is there data to back this claim?

During 2019, SabrangIndia reported of a campaign titled ‘No Voter Left Behind’ discovered an alarming fact: a significantly high number of Indians, could be as high as 13 crores in all, were absent from the electoral rolls. Among this group, four crore were Dalits and three crore were Muslims, indicating a concerning trend of systematically excluding some of the most vulnerable segments of society from the democratic participation. In that same year, Khalid Saifullah from RayLabs Technologies developed an app named ‘Missing Voters’ aimed at assisting disenfranchised voters, offering a potential solution to this issue.

The ‘No Voter Left Behind’ campaign unveiled a distressing reality: around 120 million Indians found their names missing from the electoral rolls. Among these, three crore were Muslims, and four crore were Daits. An additional category that experienced widespread disenfranchisement was women. The campaign extensively examined 800 Assembly constituencies across all states, excluding Kerala, Punjab, Jammu & Kashmir, and the north-eastern states. Moreover, field surveys were carried out in 10 of these constituencies and Amanullah Khalid pointed out that while broader political concerns contributed to this malpractice, the Election Commission’s administrative shortcomings were equally responsible.

What do ground level observations tell us?

A Deccan Herald piece by Saba Naqvi from 2022 highlights several key observations that include the following. Naqvi observes, speaking on the 2022 UP municipal elections, that, one of the main motives behind the exclusion of minority voters in Uttar Pradesh during BJP rule could involve a deliberate effort to manipulate electoral demographics, by deviating from the actual population statistics. This strategy could involve party cadres or ‘panna pramukhs’ strategically examining voting patterns around specific polling booths and subsequently filing for the removal of certain individuals from voter lists. According to her, booth-level officers, who are not full-time employees, might also fail to thoroughly verify these claims, allowing names to be removed. In some instances, BLOs might align with the ruling ideology or follow instructions, willingly participating in the process of eliminating Muslim names.

Furthermore, according to Saba Naqvi, at the start of the initial process, the Election Commission places advertisements in newspapers to inform citizens about upcoming elections. However, she states, this would mean that the limited literacy rates and newspaper accessibility across the country mean that a considerable portion of the population remains unaware of these notifications.

Furthermore, the current approach, termed a ‘pull approach,’ requires individuals to visit E.C. offices. However, expecting people to proactively seek out these benefits is proving ineffective, especially given the prevalence of illiteracy and the demands of daily labour. Even if individuals do attempt to comply, they often lack knowledge about the necessary documents.

A practical suggestion that emerges from this analysis – the E.C. could adopt a ‘push approach’ by deploying officials to visit households. This strategy, akin to bill collectors for utilities, could be employed before elections to verify information. Despite being a relatively manageable endeavour, it could yield significant results. Additionally, the article also pointed out a specific instance in Moradabad, where a predominantly Muslim community resides and in this locality, a staggering 80 percent of names were absent from the rolls, highlighting the depth of the problem at hand.

Uttarakhand, 2019

As the state of Uttarakhand headed for the Lok Sabha elections in 2019, NewsClick reported of a survey conducted in January has uncovered concerning findings. Approximately 12-13 percent of the total electorate may have been excluded from the voter rolls. Alarmingly, the survey highlights that around 90 percent of the missing names belong to Dalit and Muslim voters. This survey, carried out by Chetna Andolan, covered regions including Dharampur, Raipur, and Mussoorie.

Bengaluru, Karnataka 2023

Sabrang India reported that in Bengaluru’s Shivajinagar constituency earlier this year in February, the Election Commission took action against hundreds of voters, including Muslims and Dalit, based on a complaint by alleged BJP activists. The High Court was approached in this matter. The complaint had claimed that 26,000 fake voters were identified as shifted or deceased. Despite criticism for not following Election Commission SOPs, notices were sent to 9,159 voters starting in January 2023. The Election Commission justifies its actions by citing a clause for ‘special circumstances,’ although SOPs discourage deletions within six months of an Assembly term’s end to maintain voters’ trust.

Uttar Pradesh 2023

Similarly, Sabrang India reported early this year during civil polls in UP’s Amroha, clashes had occurred between BJP and BSP members erupted. Both sides alleged booth capturing, leading to arrests and injuries. BSP accused BJP of booth capturing and hindering Muslim voters, while BJP claimed ‘Burqa-clad women’ engaged in fake voting. Similar clashes occurred in Lucknow and Prayagraj between SP and BJP supporters over voting issues. SP supporter’s alleged bias and claimed Muslim voters faced restrictions. Abdul Wahid of SP accused central security forces of harassing Muslim voters through ID checks to lower polling percentage.

Gujarat 2022

Moving to Gujarat, according to The Hindu, in December 2022 the Congress party alleged electoral fraud on Monday, claiming that during the Gujarat Assembly elections, an average of 6.5% of total votes were supposedly cast in the final hour of polling. They asserted that in certain constituencies, this figure even reached 11%, which they deemed impossible. Party spokesperson Pawan Khera stated, “In the last hour of the second round of voting in Gujarat, we observed an unprecedented surge in votes, averaging 6.5%. In some seats, as much as 11.5% of the total votes were allegedly cast in the last hour. This is humanly impossible.” Khera further suggested that based on these statistics, the average time taken to cast a vote would be just 20-30 seconds.

Tamil Nadu 2019

Similarly, in Tamil Nadu, the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) alleged that around 500 voters’ names were missing from the electoral rolls in Tindivanam town of the Villupuram constituency during the Lok Sabha polls. VCK leader D Ravikumar, who is contesting from the constituency, claimed that these missing names belong to Muslims or Dalits. The VCK is part of the Congress-Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam alliance in Tamil Nadu, reported However, government officials stated that no names had been deleted from the list in the past three years.

Recent analysis reveals hair-raising details. A paper authored by Sabyasachi Das, an assistant professor of economics at Ashoka University, a fascinating analysis is presented that starkly challenges the integrity of certain seats won by the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The paper, which explores the possibility of manipulation in the electoral process, raises pertinent questions about the performance of the Election Commission. Das basically employs an array of statistical tools, most notably the McCrary test, to dissect the election results. The study highlights a pattern where constituencies witnessing closely contested battles between the BJP and rival parties seemed disproportionately won by the BJP. This phenomenon is particularly pronounced in states ruled by the BJP. In a fair election scenario, the chance of victory for party A in a closely contested race should be around 50%, indicating a potential red flag if this balance is skewed.

The research probes two potential explanations for the deviation from the expected balance. One possibility is the manipulation of elections, while the other is the BJP’s adeptness and quick skill in identifying closely contested seats and strategically focusing its campaigns.

To scrutinise the latter, Das delves into the National Election Survey data, which tracks party worker visits to households. Surprisingly, there is no substantial evidence to suggest that the BJP outperformed the Opposition in campaign efforts on the ground in closely contested constituencies. Given the evolving role of social media in campaigns, the paper also examines its impact. The research reveals that although the BJP may have intensified its social media campaigns in closely contested areas, there’s no definitive evidence linking this to higher success rates in BJP-ruled states.

The most alarming suggestion in the paper is the evidence that suggests manipulation. Three potential manipulation methods are explored: registration manipulation, turnout manipulation, and manipulating vote tallies during counting. Additionally, Das identifies a slow growth in voter numbers within constituencies experiencing close BJP victories, particularly in areas with a significant Muslim population. This implies possible voter deletions, thereby compromising the democratic process.

The investigation into the alleged turnout manipulation is equally intriguing for a mismatch between published data sets of votes polled and votes counted. Quite astonishingly, this mismatch coincides with instances of close BJP wins, particularly in BJP-ruled states, raising suspicions of possible irregularities.

Das further explores the correlation between high voter turnouts and BJP wins in polling booths. According to the paper, there were no comparable disruptions in previous general elections for either the BJP or the Congress, the two major national parties. This also held true for state assembly elections conducted alongside the 2019 general election and those that followed. Furthermore, the BJP’s significant victories in closely contested constituencies were primarily concentrated in states where the party was in power at the time of the election.

Additionally, he examines the voting pattern in Muslim-dominated areas. In constituencies narrowly lost by the BJP, Muslim-dominated booths don’t show significant BJP support. However, in constituencies narrowly won by the BJP, the Muslim-dominated booths exhibit voting patterns akin to those in Hindu-dominated areas. The paper’s impact has reverberated through India’s political landscape, sparking intense debates. The researcher, Sabyasachi Das, a well-credentialed economist from Ashoka University, has faced undue criticism on social media and has even been allegedly suspended by the university.

What has the ECI done in this regard?

The right to vote is a fundamental right and the cornerstone of India’s democracy. To ensure this, the ECI has been instituted to ensure a free and fair democratic process for all citizens. If a rightful voters’ name has been removed from the electoral list, denying his or her right to vote, a citizen can hold the Chief Electoral Officer accountable for denying legal rights and seek compensation. In a recent ruling on July 29 in the Sumit vs. Chief Election Officer case, the Central Information Commission affirmed the importance of the voter’s right and ordered that the appellant be awarded Rs.10,000 as compensation for not being notified about the removal of their name from the voters’ list and being denied information under the RTI Act. In more recent news, according to a report by Sabrang India, the ECI also reaffirmed it’s position and stated to the Supreme Court that voter’ names could not be removed from the lists without informing them.


As has been established here, marginalised populations such as Dalits and Muslims are unfairly bereft of their voting rights. In addition, reports pointed out to a huge number of missing women voters from the 2019 elections. Approximately 65 million women, equivalent to about 20% of eligible female voters, are absent from electoral rolls, prompting concerns about the adequate representation of their issues in the democratic process.

These alarming statistics really propel citizens to ask the question if the most basic of constitutional and fundamental rights of all Indians, especially the most vulnerable, are being heard.



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