Young India: The mood of the First Time Voter

Published May 6, 2014
Do the ones who decide the future of India understand what they really want? -Photo by Satish Bate
Do the ones who decide the future of India understand what they really want? -Photo by Satish Bate

Age often plays a vital role in almost everything in the subcontinent. Many a times arguing elders in this part of the world shrug the young’s viewpoint on account of being … well, young.

This also used be the attitude of traditional politics in India, where the youth and their needs were rarely important. So, while politicians would harp about development, infrastructure, job opportunities, and growth they never saw it from the young’s point of view but with half India’s population being under 25 this mindset is undergoing a transition.

One of the factors that truly separate the ongoing 2014 General Elections in India than the ones before is the sheer volume of first-time voters. With a whopping 47 per cent of the voting population under the age of 35, it is young electorate that could very well be the element that influences the 16th Lok Sabha’s mandate.

It’s not surprising then that with millions of voters exercising their franchise for the first-time every single party, national or regional, is vying for their attention.

So, do the ones who decide the future of this young India understand what they really want?

On the face of it, almost every young person that this writer spoke to was plagued by corruption and rising prices.

  -Ravi Dubey
-Ravi Dubey

For Ravi Dubey, a 25-year old street hawker, the rampant corruption under the present government is the root cause of everything that is wrong in India today.

Dubey sells shirts in Nehru Place, arguably Asia’s biggest computer market, and believes that politicians have eaten the money meant for the development of people. Dubey, who voted for the BJP in the hope of better days says,

They rob from us, while we are left without facilities and on top of it have to deal with rising prices.

Most young are looking for a change and want to hold on to any glimmer that they see.

  -Salman Khan
-Salman Khan

For 22-year Salman Khan, Arvind Kejriwal and the Aam Admi Party (AAP) seem to be that change. Salman works in Public Relations and doesn’t consider himself to be politically aware but chose to look beyond the usual suspects while casting his vote.

For him it was the humanitarian aspect of the AAP and its concern for the common man that prompted him to vote for the party. Salman wants the new government to do something about poverty, which according to him is a bigger divisive factor than others. He says,

Our country could have been better off… some blame the Congress and some BJP.

Perhaps it’s the likes of Alam Khan, a 20-year fruit vendor from Mehrauli that AAP supporters have in mind while pressing the button on the Electronic Voting Machine.

  -Alam Khan
-Alam Khan

Alam voted for AAP in the Delhi Assembly elections and swears that in the 49-days that Kejriwal was Chief Minister no cop or Municipal official troubled them.

Standing in Delhi’s sweltering heat for hours at end, wading through haggling customers and irritant cops, Alam knows that value of being able to conduct business without trouble.

‘Now cops are back to taking bribes and just today one walked off with my balance…’ says Alam and even though his voice trails off, his eyes say it all.

It doesn’t matter to him that Kejriwal chucked the faith of such people midway and the joy of those 49-days was enough to win his vote, again.

Most young voters believe that they don’t possess any real knowledge about the political scenario of India. While some go with the flow, some give in to populist sentiments, some opt for familial influence and yet, there seems to be an extremely studied approach in their preference.

Although she believes that she voted for the BJP based on what her parents were thinking, Nandini Bansal, final-year English student in Delhi University, consciously chose to be an ‘active citizen than a passive citizen.’

  -Nandini Bansal
-Nandini Bansal

Poised to graduate this year, Nandini believes that Modi’s development model is something that would ensure jobs for the youth but doesn’t miss a beat in confessing that she might have made a mistake. In spite of Modi being the strong leader that she thinks India needs, she can’t help but muse ‘kahin bahut communal na ho jaye…’ (What if he’s too communal?).

She momentarily goes back to thinking that her fears may be unfounded not because the Supreme Court of India has exonerated the BJP leader but when she learns that the Congress’ manifesto proposes community based reservation in the private sector.

  -Pankaj Saini
-Pankaj Saini

Like her Pankaj Saini, a 24-year old chef in a suburban café, is more worried about job security more than anything else. Saini experienced the success of the Gujarat model while he worked in that state for a few years and roots for Modi’s development model that doesn’t compel people to leave their states in search of work.

‘Private sector jobs have no security but if the general environment of the country is fine, then entrepreneurs won’t shut business as readily as they do now’, says Saini and wants the new government to help industry prosper.

I couldn’t help but prod Saini to address the alleged communal bias, the so-called elephant in the room that props up whenever the name Modi is mentioned. Saini agrees that no one’s perfect but says that the biggest issue that plagued Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s financial capital, during his stay there was the water shortage.

Some might argue otherwise but Ravi Dubey is certain that Muslims wouldn’t suffer if Modi were to become PM. The street hawker says that at the end of the day it’s hunger and employment that occupies more space than religion in the minds of Indians like him and adds,

Modi or no Modi, if things were to get bad they would get bad for every single citizen of India and not any particular community.

The 24x7 media coverage and the general access to information largely due to the exponential growth of social media platforms has given the average voter a sense of ownership to the elections.

Siddharth (name changed on request) hails from a business family in Gurgaon, a satellite town of New Delhi and one of the fastest growing urban areas in India, where political ignorance, as well as non-participation is a family trait.

His parents are in their mid-50s and had never voted before this election but watching debates on TV news channels, such as those conducted by Arnab Gosawmi, for whom he even misses his movies, made him want to do something to change how things were.

The 25-year old financial consultant doesn’t mention whom he voted for as it was ‘a very personal thing’ but his decision to vote for a change in a system that allowed things to go from bad to worse in the last 10 years more than reveals his choice.

Apart from inspiring the younger generation, the media coverage has also compelled many middle-aged and even elder Indians to exercise their right perhaps for the very first time.

  -Akhil Chabra
-Akhil Chabra

Akhil Chabra is a 39-year in-house legal counsel for a renowned multinational corporation who never bothered to even get his Voter’s card made till recently.

Honestly, I believed that most Indians voted in elections as someone needed to be chosen and we never really had a choice.

But watching how last year’s Delhi Assembly elections played out he was convinced that every single vote mattered. Even though he voted for the BJP, Chabra is very clear that it is Narendra Modi that he has voted and not the party.

‘I think [Modi] will contribute to the overall development because of his experience’, says Chabra and adds that he would like to give Modi a chance, based on what he heard from the leader on his campaign trail.

For Kavita Chintamani, a 58-year kindergarten teacher, being married to an Army officer meant not being able to vote as they were constantly moving from one cantonment to another.

  -Kavita Chintamani
-Kavita Chintamani

Additionally, she never valued her vote believing ‘one vote more or one vote less’ wouldn’t make any difference but having heard the possible PM options from both Congress and the BJP, she decided to finally vote for the first time in her life.

For her, it wasn’t only about voting for Modi, a clear choice in her mind, but more importantly, voting against the incumbent government and she adds,

I was scared that if I didn’t vote then the chances of what I don’t to happen could be higher.

She would like the new government to concentrate on offering stability for all-round betterment rather than wasting time on exposing the skeletons of the previous government and, of course, less scams.

Many post-poll studies indicate an overall increase in polling across states due to a surge of first-time voters. It also suggests that the younger voter, and to some degree the urban voter, could influence the verdict.

Perhaps the presence of a young leader in the form of Rahul Gandhi assures the Congress party of its ability to bridge the wide gap existing between the grand old party and the new electorate.

On the other hand this also somewhere guides the BJP and Modi to regularly address the young’s aspirations throughout their campaign while prompting the AAP to give tickets to individuals such as Gul Panag, a former Miss India and actress who, uncharacteristically for celebrities, is socially very conscious.

It’s not just the political parties that are aware of the emergence of this section of the electorate or else how does one explain the principal of St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, sending an email to students criticising the famous Gujarat Model and even warning students against ‘communal forces.’

The first time voter was always going to play a very important role in the 2014 general elections and this isn’t a generation that can get easily swayed on things that it doesn’t care much for. The younger India whether rich, middle-class or marginalised simply wants a change from the scams, the corruption and a future where politicians don’t underestimate their power.

If nothing else then the 2013 Delhi Assembly polls gave a glimpse of what an evoked electorate could achieve.

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