In the run-up to the November 4 assembly elections, both the Bharatiya Janata Party and Congress may have ignored the age criteria while selecting candidates, but the fact remains that the next government cannot be formed without the support of young electors.
Nearly half of the total voters in the state are below the age of 40. Of the 45.15 lakh registered voters, 49.1 % are below the age of 40 years. Statistics provided by the election commission reveal that 1,04,240 voters in the 18 to 19 age bracket will cast vote for the first time. Youngsters -- the first-time voters in particular -- are excited about the elections. Asha Negi, a BA student at Rajkiya Kanya Mahavidyalaya, is a first-time voter who keeps a close tab on political activities in the state. "After all it's the politicians who are running the state and the country. Voting for the first time is always an exciting affair, but one should vote sensibly," she said.
As per records of the election commission, 10,29,897 voters are between the age of 29 and 30, which constitute 22.26% of the total registered electorate. There are considerable numbers of voters in the 30-39 age group. "Now that it's my chance to participate in the election, I will encourage other people of my age to come out and vote. I feel like I have a voice now. At least I can vote for eradicating corruption," says Dharamapal Thakur (26), an employee with a local bank.
Though youngsters hold the key to formation of the next government, they have not got preference from political parties. The BJP has ignored the youth in its first list of 45 candidates. There is not even a single candidate below the age of 40. The saffron party has its own explanation to it. "The BJP list is a curious mix of youth and experience. I do not think that we have totally overlooked youth," says Dr Ashok Kapathia, BJP spokesman.
Neeraj Bharti, a Congress legislator who made to the assembly at the age of 29, is a strong votary for more representation to youth. "Preference should be given to youth. I believe some names have been forwarded by the Youth Congress," says Neeraj Bharti, who was elected to the assembly in 2007.
Singers to create awareness
The election department is running a special campaign in encourage the participation of young voters in the election process. It has roped in famous folk singer from Kangra, Karnail Rana who will educate voters through his songs. Rana, who has sung hundreds of folk songs, is employed as an assistant public relations officer with the department of information and public relations in Dharamsala.
Rana had been moving from one college to another to educate youth. "I have prepared some parodies and songs to educate voters," says Rana who has more than 2,000 songs, including folk and devotional ones, to his credit.
Vicky Chauhan, another Himachali singer who has been credited with popularising 'pahari' folk songs amongst youngsters is another brand ambassador engaged by the election commission to educate the youth. Chauhan's voice became a household name when his album, 'Niru Chali Gumde', witnessed record sales a decade ago.
The election department has also roped in Nirmala Sharma, the first woman participant in the reality music show, 'Sa re gama pa', to educate the youth.
An interesting fact is that though youngsters will play a crucial role in electing new government, the BJP and Congress are being led by chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal (68) and Virbhadra Singh (78), respectively.
Electorate's age profile
Age group Electors %age of total registered voters
18-19 1.04 lakh 2.25
20-29 10.29 lakh 22.26
30-39 11.52 lakh 24.90
40-49 9.24 lakh 19.98
50-59 6.35 lakh 13.73
60-69 3.93 lakh 8.50
70-79 2.01 lakh 4.35
80+ 75,304 1.63
Data compiled by the election commission on August 9, 2012.