RAHI GAIKWAD IN MUMBAI,
S. BAGESHREE IN BANGALORE
SRUTHI KRISHNAN IN CHENNAI
The youth in India are waking up to the possibilities of electoral politics. Fed up with corrupt politicians, the economic slowdown and inefficient governance, young voters realise that they can make a difference. With 40 per cent of the voters under the age of 35, the campaign managers are devising novel ways to woo them. So what does Youngistan feel about our politicians? And what do our young MPs and first-timers feel about governance and change? Our correspondents find out...
“Youth” and “change” are the most bandied about words in the run up to the 15th Lok Sabha elections. With an estimated one quarter of voters aged between 18 and 25 years, every party is trying to woo young voters through campaigns specially designed for them and young candidates are being projected as “important faces” of the party.
Are young people really impressed? To an extent yes, with some youngsters even starting voluntary campaigns to enrol voters and inspire them to walk to the polling booths on the day of polling. But many also feel that there is a need to dissect and understand what really hides behind the Obama-inspired “Yes we can!” political rhetoric.
Sense of disillusionment
The young are disillusioned with the older generation of leaders and their power battles and feel a great disconnect. Palakdeep Bamrah, 22, in Mumbai, remarks, “We have already seen how old politicians are busy in their games.” But not many names come to mind of young politicians, apart from a Rahul Gandhi or a Milind Deora.
Occupied with their academic demands and employment prospects, the young find no identification with any of the tactics for luring vote banks. “Politicians create rifts in society. They are not interested in listening to us, understand our needs,” says Shivamraj Singh, 17, again from Mumbai.
That is a sentiment shared by many. “When someone talks politics, it is like noise. We shut it out,” says Aruna P.R, a visual communications student in Chennai who just turned 18 and is waiting for her voter-id. “We have better jobs to do.”
For her, a leader is someone who should inspire. “Make people realise their duties, make them think.” And she is of the firm opinion that people do not think. “Analyse what is right and wrong. Don’t just follow.”
She may be surprised that though at the other end of the politically-aware spectrum, Rupesh Kumar in Chennai, a student of social work, agrees with her. “It bothers me that after ages, people are still voting for the same politicians.” Hence, he is part of a campaign for 49-O, the right not to vote. “We want to register a protest legally that no one is eligible to vote for.”
The need among the youth is for an indefinable “change”. It’s not just about having less number of years, but bringing in newer outlooks to politics and to the process of nation building. “We need to change with changing times. Young politicians would think like us. They would interact with the common man. That’s what the country needs,” says 18-year old Shayne Gomes in Mumbai.
For many, Rahul Gandhi has become the symbol of the young blood and the change that they speak about. Varun Gandhi on the other hand does not strike a chord. Clearly, in the eyes of the youth, much of the political skulduggery is old fashioned.
“The country needs change and new ideas. I am glad that the parties are thinking about youngsters and putting up at least some young candidates,” says Leo Peter, who has just finished his pre-university course in Electronics in Mumabi. They may lack experience, he admits, but argues that it is important to give them a chance to gain experience. “They are setting an example and telling us that politics is not an area of darkness for the young.”
It is certainly not an area of darkness for Sarath Babu, a graduate of BITS, Pilani, who has carved out a multi-million business in catering in Chennai, starting from scratch. He is contesting as an independent in Chennai South. He will be hoping to duplicate his success in politics too.
But Kushal Bhimjiani, a fourth year student in the National Law School of India University, Bangalore, takes this brouhaha about young faces in politics with a pinch of salt. “Yes, it feels nice to know that there are young people in fray. But let us not forget that ‘who are you?’ and ‘whom do you know?’ remain very important questions for every young politician,” she says. After all, with dynasty rule firmly in place in all political parties, it is sons and daughters of senior politicians who dominate in the line up of young politicians contesting polls this time. “It is not easy for others to break into the system within a party and its strict hierarchy,” says Kushal.
There are many issues that concern the young. Palakdeep identifies the economy, security scenario and people getting their dues as some of the areas needing urgent action. She thinks young politicians can have better ideas.
Anisha Sheth, a student of media studies from Mangalore, says that two issues — the economic crisis that has led to huge job losses and blatant communalism — are weighing heavily on the minds of young voters rather than the age of the contestants. The bottom line for Anisha is: “The government which comes to power should ensure social security for all citizens and in an equitable manner.”
Kushal cautions that the business of political parties wooing the young is double-edged and can be used as a tool to divide them. “Sadly a section of young people are swayed by the Bharatiya Janata Party’s rhetoric about terrorism,” she says, adding that this is turning into hostility for the minority community.
Sofiya Ashraf, a student of graphic design in Chennai, was part of a “voting is cool” campaign aimed at fellow students. “‘High-class’ colleges are not considered vote-banks,” and rightly so, she says. She is also bothered about the rhetoric on minority issues. “But when you vote, media and rhetoric should not sway you.” Base the decision on policies and their implementation, she adds.
Observers say the youth are not a vote bank, even as 40 per cent of voters are below 35, as pointed out in the media. How many will vote for the Samajwadi Party’s manifesto of doing away with computers or English education? But then, what options do the youth have?