Calling the electoral process in India a ‘maha tyohar’ (festival of festivals), Ms. Padma Angmo, Director of the Systematic Voter Education and Electoral Participation (SVEEP) of the Election Commission of India, urged community radio stations in the country to gear up for the upcoming general elections by unlocking the potential of the medium to promote electoral literacy and voter education.

She was addressing about 50 community broadcasters from 25 stations across the country, at the launch today of a collaborative project between the Election Commission and the UNESCO Chair on Community Media of University of Hyderabad called “Festival of Democracy.” The plan is for these stations located in 16 States of India to take up decentralized production of over 100 hours of radio programmes in about 11 different languages and broadcast them. Ms. Angmo pointed out that the goals of the EC to reach out to marginalized segments of the electorate are in alignment with those of community radios. The decentralized approach of community radio, she said, is appropriate with the Commission’s efforts to move away from mass communication and take up more interpersonal and targeted communication addressing specific groups.

Referring to the proposed outreach by community radios a ‘unique idea’, Mr. Ravi Kiran, the Joint Chief Electoral Officer of Telangana, said radio was an important tool in the Commission’s work on voter education. He suggested that community radio stations could become effective ambassadors of the Election Commission and take up issues like ethical voting and focus on prospective voters like youth. Mr. N.A. Shah Ansari, the President of the Community Radio Association of India, lauded this initiative of the UNESCO Chair on Community Media and called on the Election Commission to build on the current project to build capacities of many more community radio stations in the country.

Prof. Appa Rao Podile, Vice-Chancellor, University of Hyderabad, expressed his happiness about the plan for voter education through community radios. This initiative of the UNESCO Chair on Community Media, he said, is part of the efforts to deepen the University’s outreach to the society and community. Prof. Vinod Pavarala, the head of the UNESCO Chair on Community Media that anchors this project, pointed out that the participating community radio stations have a track record of working with marginalized communities such as rural poor, small farmers, migrant urban working class, Dalits and tribals, fisherfolk, and women’s collectives and cooperatives.