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Will the youth vote influence the 2014 general polls?

Polling

In less than two months, India is going to vote to elect its next central government. With 762 million eligible voters, the 2014 general elections will be the largest electoral exercise ever conducted in the world, although this is nothing new for the world’s largest democracy. Ever since the first national elections took place in 1951-52 over a four-month period with 173 million registered voters, Indian national elections have been the biggest democratic exercise in the world.

Unlike those 173 million voters, most of who were poor and illiterate, and with no experience of elections, could narrowly understand the power of exercising the right to vote and only distinguished candidates by symbols, sixty-three years later, the present voters recognise their rights and perceive party politics as a game changer for the country on macro and micro levels, albeit at a slow pace. What is remarkable about the forthcoming general elections that India’s 149 million debutant voters will help select its 16th Lok Sabha members. That’s about close to 20 percent of the total registered voters. Analysts say this post-liberalisation bunch of 149 million new voters thinks very differently and will heavily influence the general polls.

Let’s look at the numbers first. More than half of India’s population is already under the age of 25 and 65 percent of Indians are below the age of 35, and in about two years, India will have the youngest population in the world with the average age of the country is expected to be around 29 years. The latest Census data tells us that the 378.6 million of the 762 million eligible voters are in the age group of 18-35. Moreover, young voters comprise the majority voters in 26 states, including Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal, which can heavily influence the political game at the centre. By only strength of numbers, the young population can make a difference to the political system of India.

The Election Commission data shows about 90,000 voters, between the ages of 18 and 22, will be eligible debutant voters per Lok Sabha constituency. As of 1st January 2014, over 42,000 voters between 18 and 19 years of age were registered on an average in each Lok Sabha constituency of this country. That’s a staggering number, considering the winning degree of difference was less than this in 226 Lok Sabha constituencies in the last general election. Hence, understanding the aspirations of young voters and winning their votes become primordial for all parties.

It will be difficult but interesting to read the minds of young people whose votes might alter the political landscape of the country. Born after the great economic liberalisation to parents who just started to prosper owing to an increasing per capita income and a rise of nuclear families, India’s young voters suffered scarcity of any sort much lesser than their parents and grandparents who had to manage large joint families with a meagre salary that hardly grew over the years. Today’s youngsters have grown up with the belief that they can fulfill their ambitions and earn good money if they work hard. They are well aware how corruption has crippled their country and are less likely to draw on their castes to accomplish tasks.

A recent survey of 5000 young people, conducted by C-Voter polling agency for India Today group which suspended the opinion polls following a sting operation, found out that a majority of India’s young people surveyed are “very concerned” about finding a job, education, falling rupee, poverty and terror attacks in the descending order. Whether the findings should be considered true or not, nevertheless, education, employment, safety, women empowerment and good governance are the primary demands of India’s young voters.

Whatever the number of registered voters claims, the actual participation of young people in the electoral process is likely to be low but more than that of 2009 general elections.  So whether there will be an impact of the youth vote on the formation of central government and if yes, how much, needs to be seen. For example, during the 2011 anti-corruption movement led by Gandhian Anna Hazare and RTI activist, Arvind Kejriwal, hundreds of thousands of young people gathered in protests in different parts of the country. Later when Aam Admi Party, led by Arvind Kejriwal, made an entry in India’s political scene, the same youth who protested in front of Jantar Mantar in Delhi, voted for AAP and brought it power. AAP, which stood for transparency and fought against price-rise and corruption, attracted young voters and secured a considerable proportion of their votes in last year’s assembly elections.

According to a recently launched book titled:  Indian Youth and Electoral Politics: An Emerging Engagement edited by Sanjay Kumar, psephologist and professor at the Centre for Study of Developing Societies, young Indians are interested to engage in a different kind of politics that is clean and provides an equal chance of contesting elections. With social media sites accelerating the amount of information about candidates, it would be noteworthy to see how much social media can make an impact on deciding the right representatives given that four out of every 10 young voters are from urban areas and most of them are well accustomed with Facebook and Twitter.

The rise of actual youth participation will certainly influence the political scene at the centre but in what measure needs to be seen. What factors drive young people to vote? Will they choose young politicians over the old ones? What about religion – is it a concern for them, if yes, how are they going to choose representatives to address and prevent communal riots? Apart from a lack of job opportunities, women’s safety and corruption, are the young people worried about Section 377 of the Constitution and dwindling of tolerance and freedom of speech in the world’s largest democracy and in what degree and how would they like to resolve these issues? They results of 2014 general elections will hopefully hold the key to these crucial questions.

Arpita Chakrabarty

An independent journalist and researcher, Arpita likes to travel and weave stories of people and culture. Her interests lie in guitar, Himalayas and words and everything between them.

Latest posts by Arpita Chakrabarty (see all)

  • Gururaja Rao

    The debutant voters are young and educated. They are not bound by the traditional loyalties which were typical of the older generation. They will certainly do the right thing; but they are spread over vast areas; but not disconnected. The electronic media comes in handy to get them together. They must be led properly and the the new India will be born! Exceptions need not bother us though they too must be tackled properly.

    • Aparajita Tripathi

      Well Said Mr Rao! The demographic power of the youth has forced the political parties to talk about development and governance, caste has taken a backseat.

      • Dr. Mrs Sushma Joiya Pandit

        Congratulations to Mr Anna Hazare and his follower Mr Kejriwal. Because of t5hese two personalities the politics has taken a new shape.The core group of Hinduism has forgotten the chapter of Mandir Masjid and all are singing on tune of development.

  • Dr. Mrs Sushma Joiya Pandit

    FREE India crossed the age of sixty years. At this age every one needs support of youngsters in all the ways.
    Young Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, emerging young personality from Congress Party and many more young personalities including the young Challenger to eradicate corruption from India are the hopes of India to grow.

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