Editor's note: This is a multi-part political diary that features interviews with and observations about young voters in Madhya Pradesh
At Indore's chhappan, a busy street full of chaat stalls, young people have begun lining up for their evening pakodas and kulfi.
As I start talking to millennials and first-time voters gathered here, it becomes clear that the Modi fever is as strong as 2014. Largely students enrolled in college or coaching programs, these people were admittedly not politically aware. Many didn’t have voter identification cards, and most didn’t know the names of their Lok Sabha candidates.
So, it made sense that I could only hear one name among the people at chhappan: Modi.
The BJP made headlines when it dropped its incumbent Member of Parliament and Lok Sabha Speaker, Sumitra Mahajan, in favor of local Sindhi politician Shankar Lalwani. The Congress announced the candidature of local corporator Pankaj Sanghvi, whose last Lok Sabha run, against Mahajan in 1998, ended with his defeat by 48,000 votes. Small numbers compared to her 2014 margin of nearly 4,70,000 votes.
But the candidates couldn’t matter less. Anything other than Modi in this urban and prosperous part of the city was almost heretical. Considered a BJP citadel, Indore hasn’t elected a non-saffron Member of Parliament since 1989, thirty years ago.
And Indore’s young voters appear set to continue that trend.
“There’s no one else apart from Modi. He has been amazing for India. Earlier, nobody would talk about India abroad, now everyone knows about Modi,” one 23-year old man told me.
Modi’s foreign visits and his image abroad came up often.
“If you look at India today, F-16s are being made in India because of his foreign visits. Abhinandan returned home in one day, while Sarabjit never came back. He is making India shine,” a young woman in a group of college students in line for kulfi told me. Fact-checking her statements, particularly those on F-16s, would have been pointless since she was very enthusiastic about re-electing the prime minister.
Another young woman from that same group took her statement forward, describing how she felt proud that Modi speaks in Hindi when he is on foreign diplomatic visits, and that Manmohan Singh was nowhere to be seen in his tenure.
All of these people receive their news and information from social media, largely from their friends’ news feeds on Facebook or groups they are enrolled in.
Digging deeper, I wanted to know whether there were any policies of the prime minister that these millennials supported. After hesitation and some uncomfortable pauses, most mentioned demonetisation or the Goods and Services Tax, acknowledging both have had rocky results.
“Demonetisation was not implemented well, but at least Modi ji did something about black money and corruption” was a common sentiment among Indore’s millennials. One interviewee even told me that demonetisation and GST shut many businesses down in the state, which was a good thing since he believed these businesses were illicit. He did not seem bothered by the job losses that accompanied the businesses that shut down.
Which is when opinions on the Madhya Pradesh’s employment (or employability) crisis, which was featured in the previous piece, get interesting. To Indore’s millennials, nobody was to blame. The lack of good jobs available, or the inability to get existing jobs was a fact of life that politics would not solve, and neither Prime Minister Modi, nor the BJP which ruled the state for 15 years, deserve any responsibility.
Modi-supporting millennials in Indore would often mention that “employment or unemployment are not problems which the government can solve” and that the BJP had done a better job in controlling corruption and keeping India safe.
Others were puzzled when asked about any specific policies of the prime minister which would help them find jobs or reduce unemployment in the state. These people preferred to talk about Modi’s promotion of India abroad, which mattered more to them.
These interviews took place before the recent TIME magazine cover which labelled the prime minister as ‘India’s Divider in Chief,’ another recent piece carried by foreign media on the rising intolerance towards minorities in India, which would have undercut some of the claims made in Indore.
Regarding minorities, most of the people I met did not appear to support the cultural agenda of the Bharatiya Janata Party. “The Ram Mandir will not directly impact our lives at all, so we don’t care if it is built or not” a group of students replied when asked about the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. Many did not know about Article 370 and were indifferent to its abrogation in Jammu and Kashmir.
It was hard finding any Congress supporters at Indore’s hangout spots. The only person I could find, a 27-year old employee of a spoken English centre, was voting for the party since her father had told her to do so. She could not really explain why she was voting for the party and insisted that she is apolitical.
After spending four days in Indore, it became clear that the city’s middle-class millennials are all-in for Modi, despite the prevalence of unemployment and economic distress.
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Updated Date: May 16, 2019 16:51:38 IST