Millennium Post

Youth Vote

They number at nearly 90,000 in each parliamentary constituency, adding up to a whopping 10 crore in the whole country. These young voters, aged between 18 and 22 years, are all set to make themselves heard.

Yes, this large Indian powerhouse is going to cast its vote for the first time. It has left veteran politicians, poll pundits and policy makers quite clueless, as to which way they will turn. With barely a month left for the polls, this general election has thrown up a lot of questions that are still seeking answers. Are the young politically any different? Can the 18-22 demographic be regarded as a single or undifferentiated category? Are they too divided by region, religion, caste and class like other voters?  This young bunch has lived a life dramatically different from previous generations with comparatively higher standards of living and expectations. The question arises: What issues do they feel connected to?

Bridging the urban-rural divide?

Though a large number of youths will make their way to polling stations for the very first time, what is curious is the degree to which rural and urban areas have come closer today. While the spread of roads, electricity, media and mobile phones have forged new linkages and smudged old divides, the question remains whether parties can still treat them as distinct entities. Parties that are alert to these shifts on the ground and can flexibly mould their agendas and image around them, stand to
gain for sure.

‘Yes, image plays a big role in convincing youths of our generation. The first question they ask before heading to a polling station is the kind of person they are voting for or are being mobilised to support for. No matter if it’s urban or rural youth, everyone has a tendency of going through candidates’ public image,’ tells Shubh Tiwari, a 25-year-old radio announcer and  PhD scholar based in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. Explaining further, he goes on to cite incumbent Shivraj Singh Chouhan who managed to do an image makeover considering the fact that 2.5 crore first-time voters (18-25 year) in the state made a difference in Assembly elections.

‘Shivraj Singh realised bringing this big chunk in his favour would matter a lot in reining in the state. So a social media cell was established to reach out to the urban and semi-urban young internet users. So youths went out to vote in Shivraj’s favour because they had only seen and heard about Digvijay Singh’s tenure as teens. But, when they voted for the first time in Assembly elections last year, Shivraj managed to get clear majority. Congress got restricted to just 52 seats out of total 229,’ Tiwari added.

Be it BJP, Congress, AAP or any other regional party, all are adopting similar strategies to woo young voters ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. Though several experts believe that current TV news debates and news reports, favouring one party and criticising another, don’t make any difference, some are of the opinion it does make an impact on young and impressionable minds. ‘This generation is under intense pressure by the medium. Be it TV or social media, they are being swayed by this tool. Besides, these young ones have not witnessed any revolution that has shaken stagnating mind sets. So every party is preying upon them and seeking their support,’ adds Anil Chamadia, a veteran journalist based in the capital.
What drives the youth?

The starting point of the whole debate is the fact that being aged between 18 to 22 years, young voters have much shorter historical memory. For them, the events that decisively shaped Indian politics for earlier generations exist only as a tales told. What really drives young citizens? Do they value questions of secularism and social justice, or are they swayed more by talk of ending corruption and ensuring a better environment for entrepreneurship? According to political analyst Abhay Kumar Dubey, who is also associated with the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) in New Delhi, ‘This group of young citizens has a unique feature. They have grown up in last decade and have not seen any other regime except UPA’s ten years. Primarily, they have observed only UPA-II. Normally, a person starts taking interest in news and views around the world from the age of 16 to 21. So they have witnessed the worst UPA regime, which has been flooded with multi-crore scams, bribery charges, ill-governance and terrible economic conditions. This is the reason why AAP managed to gain in Delhi Assembly elections after they pitched these issues, that resonates with each youngster in this country.’

Supporting this view, Satya Mitra Dubey, a known sociologist in Uttar Pradesh and former vice chancellor of Dibrugarh University, opines, ‘The issue of corruption is not new in Indian politics. Jaya Prakash Narayan (JP) had waged a war against it. Vishwanath Pratap Singh (VP Singh) came to power on the same issue and Rajiv Gandhi drew flak for the same in Bofors scam. It has once again gained the youth’s attention. The issue is more connected to the youth of this generation and that’s the reason why Narendra Modi’s rallies are fetching more crowds than Mulayam in UP, Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu and Mamata in West Bengal. It’s crystal clear that youths are annoyed with the current state of Indian politics and politicians. They are desperately looking for a change and that has resulted in huge crowds at political rallies.’

AAP, which is contesting elections over the same issue, has got clear gain in a recent survey done by CSDS which says, ‘If Delhi faces Assembly elections this month, AAP may get 46 seats in Delhi, while the one-year old party clinched 28 seats last time.’

Are they from Mars?

When issues of corruption and ill-governance take centre stage, do all youths think the same way? Is there any difference between the preferences of rural or urban youths? Usually, answer to all such queries is – We’re not from Mars! Abhay Dubey explains, ‘When we talk about the youth of this country, we think of the youth in metros, who are generally viewed as comparatively educated, aware and tech-savvy. But a large number of the 10-crore figure lives in rural India. This number is also a part of our society and similarly divided into caste, class, region and religion. So, he or she will also have feelings of caste allegiance, class connectivity, region preference and religious compulsion when it comes to choosing the government.’

Several other factors also play a bigger role. ‘One such example is that a sizable portion of the youth in Haryana see Om Prakash Chautala going behind bars as a politically motivated act by current CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda. When Haryana’s youth thinks about voting for new faces like Arvind Kejriwal, Jat society convinces him or her to vote for Hooda or Chautala in the name of caste or assurances for a government job. The non-Jat community finds solace in Bhajan Lal and their party, Haryana Janhit Congress,’ says Himanshu Chhabra, a young scholar, who has conducted research on political orientations among Haryanvi youths.

Sociologist Satya Mitra Dubey supports the point by adding, ‘India does not only exist in and around Rajpath and India Gate. So no matter if our first time voter is educated or not. Politics of identity will always divide them. Dalit voter in Uttar Pradesh, Dravidian voter in southern India, Marathis in Maharashtra and Yadavs in UP and Bihar will always feel connected to their traditional leaders. These parties, based on regional ideologies and identities, keep on feeding their respective societies that they have been oppressed, exploited and humiliated by others. This emotional pitch connects with the local youth as well.’

Who is holding sway?

As Abhay Dubey explains, this lot of first-time voters has only seen and observed UPA-II. ‘So it’s crystal clear that Congress is going to get zero out of hundred. This, despite the fact Rahul Gandhi is leaving no stone unturned in projecting UPA regime as progressive, flashing hoardings all across India hailing development works done by his party led government and shouting slogans about Bharat Nirman. But Rahul’s intervention is too late for damage control. The youth are looking forward to Modi’s politics and his promises of a developed India. Although there is certainly a Modi wave, the BJP’s claim that this 10-crore voter base belongs to them, is simply not true. There is no denying the fact that a big number will go in Modi’s favour. But we mustn’t forget AAP is also in the fray. Recently, I had observed that AAP is leading in all towns and cities in India. Especially, in all universities in India there is an AAP wave and a large chunk of young voters are studying in these varsities. Nearly 70 thousand voters are there. So after Congress, BJP and AAP, votes will also get divided among regional parties according to their image and hold in society. So, it could be that parties’ claim of tapping into youth votes in their favour is just a farce. Chances are high that youth will vote as per their social, region and financial status.’
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