Team Modi sets its sights on India's young and restless voters

The BJP's parliamentary poll strategy hinges on how the young and first time voters view the party and its de-facto leader Narendra Modi. It was thus part of a careful strategy for Modi to have two full events in Pune yesterday - one on a campus, saying he was giving voice to youth aspirations, and other a public rally to make a full scale attack on the ruling Congress and attempting to bring back the focus on UPA’s follies.

Going by his experience in Gujarat where youth, cutting across caste and social lines overwhelmingly favoured him, Modi is hoping to gain similar support on a national scale when it would matters the most to him, in next parliamentary elections. Among the various committees that are in the process of being formed to support Modi in his role as the party's campaign committee chief, one of them focusses on mobilisation of young and first-time voters. The committee is being headed by the new and relatively youthful BJP general secretary Murlidhar Rao. This committee will work in close co-ordination with another committee on social media that is headed by Amit Shah, Modi’s trusted aide.

The party believes Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has failed to enamour the young voters and that the youth is instinctively inclined towards idealism, anti-corruption and are ever willing to be participants in the process of change. The party's plan is that when Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi are pitted against each other, the youth should largely opt for Modi and the BJP.

 Team Modi sets its sights on Indias young and restless voters

Modi during his Pune visit focussed on the youth. PTI

The Congress in any case believes in a dynastic system and is not comfortable with change, while in contrast in the BJP, Modi signifies change, a BJP leader said.

In his Pune speech, Modi said that the people from an older generation could forgive the Congress for all its failings, but the younger generation of India couldn't be so generous to the Grand Old Party. While there is no exact calculation yet as to how many first time or second time voters will participate in the 2014 polls, present estimates suggest that this could be 15-20 crore. The youth category stretches to include voters up in the age bracket of 18 to 35-year-old. Younger voters are being perceived as the party as having the tendency to rise above caste and community and vote for a party or leader who could potentially deliver their aspirations.

However, achieving their target is no easy task. In a country as vast and diverse as India, there are multiple strata, a rural-urban divide, people across educational statuses and job categories in organized and unorganised sectors that need to be reached out to. Issues and aspiration levels could vary wildly. The ideas and policies should therefore be shaped accordingly, says Murlidhar Rao.

But isn't there too little time to convince these voters about seeing the BJP as the party that could meet these challenges? Rao believes that the mood in the nation is also helping the BJP in its endeavour and the party was not working in an isolated environment.

“We are sowing seeds in a rainy season,” said another party leader.

The challenge for the party is to see how much it can capitalise Modi’s charisma and the perceived inclination of the youth towards Modi’s dynamism, and his reputation as strong administrator and development-oriented leader. The party will have decentralised programmes for youth in various social and economic brackets. Youth in rural areas will receive special attention, especially those who are engaged in agriculture and allied sectors, given they are worse off due to low income levels and uncertain employment levels. The committee is trying to develop content targeting them.

Modi admits that he is “very active” on social media and even took suggestions on Facebook and Twitter for his speech at Pune’s Fergusson college.

“There is a perception that the youth of the nation is not concerned but this is not a correct perception- In fact the youth want to express themselves. A nation with such a youth cannot have a dark future. We are blessed to be the world’s most youthful nation,” he said.

His remark on the rising cost of education at various institutions – “from a man-making mission, education has now come to become a money-making machine”-- is seen as something that went down well with both, the students and parents, who  struggle to meet the hefty fees charged by increasing private institutions . The resentment in among students is seen as being driven by the fact that most young recruits are not getting compensation packages commensurate with the cost incurred while studying, due to an economic slowdown. The resentment among them is seen to be rising and is believed to be one of the reasons, which wasn't widely highlighted, that resulted in mobilisation of people in the streets during the Anna Hazare movement and Delhi gangrape case.

The BJP’s youth wing, Yuva Morcha is also playing its role in trying to mobilise its share of young voters for Modi.

Party youth wing chief Anurag Thakur said, “Since the BJP made Narendra Modi as the head of the Election Campaign Committee, the country's youth want to associate themselves with BJP with great vigour.”

Thakur is organising  a special membership drive from 15 July and is also seeking suggestions from the younger voters on what they think the party should do to fulfil their aspirations.

“The 20 youths who give the best suggestions, via social media or in written letters, for the upcoming 2014 parliamentary elections will be invited to have a personal meeting Modi,” Thakur said.

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Updated Date: Jul 15, 2013 20:34:16 IST