New Delhi: Whether it was the unprecedented demonstrations braving water cannons and baton-wielding policemen in the aftermath of the December 16 gangrape in Delhi or the two years of sustained mobilisation on the anti-corruption and Jan Lokpal platforms, the students of the capital city pretty much came into their own. That’s why, when the Election Commission data showed that a third of Delhi’s voters are under the age of 30 – 40 lakh young voters, to be precise – it was a foregone conclusion that young Delhi can comprehensively swing December’s Assembly poll.
Listen to us, young India was saying to state authorities in Delhi. To encash that potential bloc, political parties simply had to reach out and pay heed.
Garima Upadhyay, 22, a sociology student and first time voter who had something of a struggle to get herself registered owing to a recent address change, says she will vote with caution, after assessing the messages that political parties are sending out. The popularity of Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi has seen a clear upswing as a youth leader, especially after his speech at the Shri Ram College Of Commerce right before the students’ union elections, she admits. “His speech floored a lot of my friends, he spoke about growth, he did not fool around with issues that do not concern the youth,” Garima says.
Some of Garima’s friends have made up their mind. “We should vote for the Aam Aadmi Party, they are trying hard and it makes sense to give them a chance. They might have something new to offer,” says Rajat Aggarwal, another Delhi University student.
In the social media space and when they’re just hanging out, these issues that affect the lives of their generation are a subject of hot debate. Garima says she and her friends discuss everyday issues that will influence the votes of at least first time voters, including women’s security. “I travel from Dwarka to North Campus, my parents worry for my security. I participated in protests outside India gate in December and I do not feel that in almost a year anything has changed,” she continues.
The other things that bother her and her group of friends the most: “Economic ups and downs” that directly affect employment opportunities and cost of living. Garima’s younger brother had to can plans to apply to a foreign university, so from the rupee’s performance against the dollar to the UPA’s policy to inflation, these are subjects in the here and now, no longer vague terms thrown at them on news programmes or in economics class.
Needless to say, there is anger towards the Congress. Students who braved lathis, teargas and water canons feel nothing has changed and the direct fallout is that they would like to see the incumbent Sheila Dikshit government replaced. “My friends who were lathi charged face the same attitudes from the Delhi police everyday, obviously they are skeptical about voting for Congress,” she says.
Even going by that clear disenchantment with the current government, these 40 lakh voters may not be one homogenous group. But the one thing that does unite the large majority of first-time voters is the need for change, and when a force as large as one third of the voters seeks change, one reckons Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit could see it as her undoing.
Garima lives in Dwarka with her family. Her father is a government servant, he rbrother is a student and her mother is a homemaker. “My father wants me to vote for the BJP, since that seems to be the next best option, but I am unsure if they are any different,” she says.
Take the DUSU polls as a precursor, say some observers. It was a sweep for the ABVP, the BJP’s student wing. But that equation seems skewed since the AAP did not contest the student union polls at all.
Needless to say, the DUSU polls could have given the party a platform to build on their popularity and directly access this massive votebank. The AAP claims to be the new wave, their candidates are all of the average age of 30 years to 35 years, their thinktank and strategists are young too.
But Yogendra Yadav, political scientist and AAP member, reasons that this option was indeed before them but would have been a test without any results, not to mention diverting considerable energies.
In the triangular fight emerging in Delhi, the AAP clearly has the youngest blood and so the most natural synergy with Delhi’s young voters. What started with the anti-corruption war initiated by Anna Hazare, successfully cashing in on the energy and zeal of the young, led to a predominance of professionals and college students keeping the India Against Corruption fire burning. The split between Anna and Arvind Kejriwal, however, may have turned the tables somewhat. Almost 70 percent of disgruntled volunteers left the movement following the split, say insiders, rendering it rather difficult for the newly carved out party to find more volunteers.
Gaurav Bakshi, social activist and the youth face of the original Team Anna, feels Kejriwal may not get that much support from youth. “No new work force has joined AAP since the split, the volunteers who worked with Anna refused to go with AAP, even though Arvind is popular with the youth, he cannot take his popularity for granted.”
Young professionals voting for the second or third time also seem to believe that even though the party has gained instant popularity, the timing is just not right. Bhavya Bagai, 27, a businessman, is sceptical of the anticipation over the AAP. “Even though AAP’s USP is honesty and hard work, I am not sure if they can handle it if they come to power. I think it would be best if they are in opposition, it will give them time to mature as a party and get trust of people,” says the Delhi-based businessman.
The other reason this large mass of voters will perhaps not vote en bloc is that parties have failed to mobilize them at constituency-level. The most first-time voters are located in seven of Delhi’s constituencies -- Vikaspuri, Matiala, Karawal, Mundka, Bawana, Kirari and Mustafabad. When Firstpost spoke to the Congress MLA Nand Kishore from Vikaspuri, he seemed unaware of the just-enrolled youth in his constituency – 10,373 of them. Nand Kishore, 42, nonchalantly says he has left it to the Youth Congress Committee to woo these voters.
In the AAP too, there is no hope that these 40 lakh young voters will vote as one. Yogendra Yadav says, “No group is homogeneous… every party is trying to get extra support, it is important for parties to try and establish their image. The real task is, since the under-30 have largely seen Congress in power, they might have a polarized opinion.” So the youth might either blame the Congress completely or may applaud them. For Modi, on the other hand, Yadav says, there is support for his prime ministerial candidature but hardly the same kind of support for the BJP’s front-runner CM candidate Vijay Goel, who has just caused further chaos in the BJP camp by threatening to step down if Harsh Vardhan, seen as having a better connect with the people of Delhi, is projected as CM candidate instead of him.
The youth may be one voting population that is easily steered, they come with no baggage and with fairly recent political ideologies, they want change and vote boldly. But will they really make their voice heard in the December polls? For now, it appears unlikely.
Your guide to the latest election news, analysis, commentary, live updates and schedule for Lok Sabha Elections 2019 on firstpost.com/elections. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram or like our Facebook page for updates from all 543 constituencies for the upcoming general elections.
Updated Date: Oct 22, 2013 15:46:22 IST