Election 2014 What do Young Indians want?

Anumeha Verma
Published: May 2014

Changing Patterns of Political Participation

youth-5The legitimacy of any political system heavily depends on participation of the people. With youngsters forming a big chunk of population in India, their participation in the political processes becomes significant. The terms on which youth today is engaging with politics are certainly being redefined. While some remain apathetic towards Elections, there are others who have decided to go that extra mile. These young people are not just voting but also creating awareness on the whole process.

18 year old Shashikala G, who is going to cast her vote for the first time in the 2014 General Elections has been actively participating in spreading awareness on the significance of casting votes. “I have encouraged and helped many of my neighbours to register for their voter cards and cast their votes for the Elections,” says this engineering student.

Jainish R Jain is going on somewhat similar lines. This 21 year old feels the responsibility of youngsters does not just end with voting. He can be seen talking to his friends about the electoral processes on his campus and has also taken up the role of Technical Assistant for the elections being held at Ramanagara District near Bangalore. “CCTV cameras are being installed at polling booths to ensure free and fair elections. I am being trained to maintain and display the screens at the booth.” There are other youngsters like Jainish who are contributing to ensure free and fair elections in the country. Akshay Jain, another techie in the making is also helping the Election Commission of his district. “I would be maintaining a CCTV database of all the voters. It has been a learning experience and I am looking forward to it.”

Transforming Approaches

Catch them young and catch them fast seems to be the mantra this election season. No wonder social media and FM radio stations that the young India tunes into a daily basis have found space in plans of all political parties. Twitter and Facebook Accounts, meeting people on Google Hangout have become as common as the political rallies to reach out to the online generation. Televised interviews of politicians are finding their links on social networking sites and youngsters are being serenaded with sms. The old methods of campaigning are still very much there and cannot be done away with. On the streets one can still find atuo rickshaws and four wheelers decked in colours of various political parties blaring out information about their candidates and our netas addressing crowds in open fields. But, social media has certainly emerged as an additional means to reach out to the young voters. A report published in 2013 by Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and the Mumbai based Iris Knowledge Foundation has predicted that ‘Facebook users would wield a tremendous influence over the results of the polls in 160 of India’s 543 constituencies.’ That may or may not be. People from one school of thought believe that social media still does not have the wherewithal to have a major impact on elections or politics in India. That might be so but we cannot deny it has certainly changed the budget allocation patterns for 2014 Elections.

While some of the youngsters have taken it upon themselves to assist in the polling process, there are others who have done canvassing for political parties. A. Sowjanya, a management student with her eyes on the corporate sector is one of them. “I have been canvassing for the party which I felt was worth it. I think if we want certain issues to be addressed; it is also our responsibility to garner support for the party who we feel would do the needful.” Shubham Thakur, agrees with Sowjanaya and feels the young people should not just talk but also act. “If each of us does our duty sincerely, it would act as a lesson for everyone else. We need to change ourselves first. If we want corruption in politics to end, we would have to start by avoiding corrupt practices ourselves,” opines this 19 year old.

Among these budding engineers, managers, writers, academicians, psychologists, scientists and many more who are pursuing different branches of studies to fulfill their aspirations and strengthen their country, there are also some who are looking forward to play a more active role in politics in future. These children of the post liberalization era believe that politics is not just the preserve of the older generation. Abiskhekh is one of them. He wants to be an active participant in solving the issues that are plaguing India. “I cherish ambitions to become a political leader one day and contribute towards the betterment of the society,” concludes this 22 year old engineer in the making.

There are others who feel that it is up to the young generation to be the change they want to see in the Indian politics. 18 year old Fasil swears by the words of Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam. “He said the future of India relies upon its youth.” He wants to become an active participant in overcoming the shortcomings of the current political system. Varshini agrees with him. “Youngsters can bring in fresh thoughts in politics. We can infuse the system with new ideas and ideals shaping the country to take its rightful place in the world,” she says.

Advertisements Rule the Day

Tune in to any television channel and you will find that advertisements on elections are dominating the airtime. Open a newspaper and eyes go to the ad of one or the other political party appealing for vote and telling the public that they are the best bet for the development of the nation. These advertisements in both print and audio-visual media have come a long way in terms of quality and presentation. The estimated budget on spending of ad campaigns in Elections has jumped from 500 crores in 2009 to 2000 crores in 2014 General Elections. Those engaged in the political warfare seem to be concerned not just about the message but also how the message is presented in order to clinch the deal. JWT India, Dentsu India, Taproot, Ogilvy & Mather are some of the ad agencies that have shaped the ads this season for the political parties.
The language of these advertisements is very different from those spoken at the political rallies. The ads are chic, meant to appeal to the urban voters, especially the younger generation. They talk of emergence of a new India, young political leaders and issues such as education, economy and women empowerment. They talk of unifying the country and avoiding dividing it on caste and communal lines. These cleverly crafted ads have taken care not to antagonize any section of the voters.
From the glossy to the monochrome, they have experimented with every possible creative style. Will these ads turn into votes? Lets wait and watch!

What the Vision Signifies?

The urban youth has been notorious for their absence from the political scene. They have often been accused of existing in a bubble, apathetic towards the issues faced by their country. However, studies show that this trend is gradually changing and the urban youth is showing its willingness to become a stakeholder in not just the economic growth of the country but also in ensuring its political and social well being.

A study by Centre for Studies of Developing Societies (CSDS), a Delhi based research centre conducted in 2011 showed that about 71 per cent of urban youngsters showed an interest in politics as against the 45 per cent in 2009. The Election Commission that is expecting a voter turnout to go as high as 70 per cent in 2014 General Elections, is citing the reason as the increased number of voters between 18-22 years. And, these young voters have very different aspirations.

These youngsters do not want their leaders to be from their own caste, they are not interested in knowing the number of years they have spent as politicians. Rather, they want political leaders who can give them honest leadership and do not have criminal records.

The young urban youth is not a puritan. They talk openly about making money and possessing material things. They want a strong economy that can support their aspirations, jobs that would give them opportunity to fulfill their dreams, an infrastructure that would support opening up of new industries and policies that attract investors to the country. They are bothered about bad roads, open manholes, two hundred rupees paid at the traffic signals, and want a solution. Empty promises, free distribution of laptops, bicycles and even iphones do not fool them. No one can fault their intentions but the question that remains is whether this young vote bank would change the face of Indian politics? That is something which only time will tell.

 - Anumeha Verma is at present working with Jain University and believes that strategic communication plays a major role in solving development issues.