In 2006, an interesting development took place on the Indian Institute of Technology-Kanpur (IIT-K) campus. Dejected by the opportunist politicians and the ‘divide and rule’ game that they played during each elections, several students decided to replace their surname with Bharat to convey their angst against the caste-based politics prevalent in Uttar Pradesh.
“It was our way of conveying that India should be first on the agenda, at all times,” says Omendra Bharat, 34, an IITian, who was part of the movement. After a brief tryst with Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), a restless Omendra, a software engineer by profession, decided to resign to set up the Bharat Punarnirman Dal (BPD), which contested the 2007 UP polls as well as the2009 Lok Sabha elections, without much success though.
Now, having re-branded their fledgling political party as Jan Rajya Party, mostly comprising professionals, Omendra says his party would contest at least 10% of the 403 seats in 2012 UP polls.
His big hopes this election hinges solely from the fact that all other major players are already hugely aware of. “UP’s electorate is getting younger. People want a change. Success of Anna Hazare’s anti-graft stir means people are indeed fed up with corrupt politicians. We are confident,” he says.
FORCE TO RECKON WITH
Whether Omendra and his party would leave an impression in the UP polls remains to be seen, but with nearly 25% of the roughly 12.48 crore voters in the state in the age group of 18 years to 29 years, many see the forthcoming polls as one where youths would take the lead in setting the political agenda for the state. The number of the young ones would climb up even more if one expands the young-category from 18 years to 35 years in a state whose chief minister (Mayawati) contested her first election when she was merely 28 and who became the youngest UP CM at 39 years.
In the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, the number of young voters was close to 6 crore across the state, a figure that is expected to go up even more in 2012, with the election commission launching a novel voter enrollment campaign in state’s universities.
Says Umesh Sinha, UP’s chief electoral officer: “The number of voters has increased from 10.84 crore to 12.48 crore now. We would launch another enrollment drive in January with the vowed aim of reaching 100% voter enrollment.”
This factor has forced political parties to rejig their poll plans to accommodate the aspirations of the young UPites. What’s more, a majority of these 1.6 crore newly added voters have stated in a survey conducted by the Giri Institute of Development Studies, which was commissioned by the election commission, that they would go out and vote in UP polls – a reason enough for the politicians to feel concerned.
PARTIES ALREADY AT IT
“It’s true that no political party can afford to ignore issues that concern the youth anymore. The 2012 UP polls would be hugely influenced by the young,” says Vani Tripathi, Bollywood actor turned national secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
With nearly 30 lakh voters in the age group of 18 to 19 years, political parties have begun oiling their youth wings to attract the youth through a combination of modern management and conventional politics.
So while the BJP has started holding nav matdata sammelan (new voter campaigns) across UP, the Samajwadi Party has held essay contests in colleges and universities, seeking the opinion of the young on reviving students union elections.
Also, it has now taken to twitter and facebook to reach out to the youth, taking its critics, who accused the party of being backward, by surprise.
Akhilesh Yadav, 38, the state chief of the SP, is already talking the language that the youth identify themselves with. “UP’s development would be on our manifesto. We will leave no stone unturned, including deploying technology tools, consulting experts on how to go about developing the state. We would break the myth that we are not progressive,” he says. Jyoti Yadav, 34, a cricketer turned SP candidate from Allahabad (west) constituency, says: “It’s true that the youth power would be fairly visible in the UP polls. In my constituency, for example, there would be at least 1 lakh plus young voters.”
Shariq Omar, 28, a Peace Party candidate from Pratappur constituency, echoes similar sentiment. In his constituency, he says, 40% electorate is young. Little wonder, the state’s ruling Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has also started holding cadre camps across the state and the party’s legislators are busy enlisting first time voters. This time too, the BSP may again opt for the young.
In fact, in 2004 Lok Sabha elections and later in 2007 assembly elections, the BSP fielded more than 50% candidates who were less than 40 years of age. In her 50-member cabinet, nearly 30% ministers were less than 45 years of age (till 2010).
The Congress is banking heavily on the youth-appeal of Rahul Gandhi, 40, who is pushing for a new-look UP Congress, promising tickets to “deserving youths”. In fact, in November 2010, it was the Gandhi scion who had stirred the UP’s youth imagination, taking a group of students from three central varsities of UP to HRD minister for initiating the process of reviving students union in the state.
Tariq Siddiqui, who heads the research and development unit of the UP Congress, says: “Rahulji is already pitching for the youth. So I think we would have a lot of young faces this time in the elections.”
Abhishek Pal, 31, son of Congress leader Jagdambika Pal, contesting from Basti (sadar) assembly constituency, says being young has its own advantages. “I certainly would give it my best shot.”
“We would allot at least 25% tickets to young voters,” says Dr Ayub, chief of the Peace Party.
“It would be interesting to see the kind of impact youths have on this election,” says Professor Sushil Kumar from the Indian Institute of Management-Lucknow (IIM-L).
Unlike 2009, when Bleed India, an internet-only party, was launched to shake country’s middle class out of their political apathy, this time around UP’s young may not require such a push. They appear excited enough to go out and vote on their own.
“Young definitely are eager. It remains to be seen how they vote,” says AK Singh, who heads the Giri Institute of Development Studies (GIDS).