Who rocks the votes in India? Everyone but urban youth, insist psephologists, and for a change, they seem to have got it right. Clean governance tops young India’s political mindspace, but that’s where the notion stays: in their heads.
Young India wants corruption and divisive politics to go, but their concern is not translating into votes. Countrywide, almost one in three (29.1%) surveyed put corruption as India’s biggest challenge, with 83.5% respondents in Bengaluru outraged at the way scams, big and small, have taken over governance and polity.
Yet only 26.8% of Bengaluru youth voted in the last election, an astoundingly small number compared to 96.6% youth in Hyderabad, for whom cross-border terror was the biggest concern, with corruption polling only 5.4% votes.
“Disenchantment apart, lakhs of young people are left out of the electoral process because they are not registered as voters. This year, nearly 3.83 crore new voters were registered, of which 1.11 crore had turned 18-19 on January 1, 2012,” said SY Qureshi, chief election commissioner of India.
“It’s the biggest empowerment of youth on a single day anywhere in the world. With 70% of the country’s population under 35 years, they must use their voting power to get the government they want,” added Qureshi, who started National Voters’ Day last year to bring the youth in the electoral process. Last year, 52 lakh 18-and-19 year-olds enrolled in January.
The number of young people who voted in the last elections — both at state and municipal levels — went up marginally from 55.1% in 2011 to 58.1% in 2012, against the national average of 59.7% in the 2009 general elections. Overall, men were more politically participative, with 60.1% voting as compared to 56.2% women. Almost 40% women described themselves as apolitical, compared to 28.9% men, but more men said their politics was secular (36%) compared to women (22.2%).
“Cynicism still keeps urban youth away as there is huge disgust against the failure to deliver. The newfound fervour to fight corruption must lead to voting. I tell them, ‘If you don’t vote, then shut the f**k up,’” says adman Prahlad Kakkar, who organises campaigns on politics and voting across colleges in the country.
Unlike in France and the US — the two major democracies going to polls this year — where a stable economy and jobs, followed by terrorism and national security, are the primary concerns among two in three young voters, young India’s greatest worries after corruption were global warming (19.1%) and cross-border terrorism (18.5%). Spiralling population and poor education delivery were the other leading concerns in 2012.
Compounding the disconnect is the grey cabinet. “What’s the point of voting for people who don’t even speak the same language,” says Madhulika Brar, 21, a third-year commerce student at Delhi University. “They worry about caste and communal votebanks, when what people want are jobs, schools and hospitals,” she adds.
More than 50% of India’s population is under 25 years and if you raise the bar to 35, 70% of the country’s inhabitants are covered, shows Census 2010 data. This makes India home to the world’s largest youth population. Yet, at 79, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is one of the world’s oldest heads of state, with a cabinet, on an average, twice as old as the country’s median age. SM Krishna is the oldest minister at 79 going on 80, while the youngest, Agatha Sangma, will turn 32 in July.
“If the government wants youth connect, they should get a young Member of Parliament to tweet on issues of employment, jobs, governance and corruption from the PMO account. That, and not the current mind-numbing tweets, will get Singh trending and make governance a talking point among the young,” says Kakkar.