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It’s time to bite the ballot

On the cusp of adulthood, four first-time voters in Bangalore talk about who they will cast their votes for and why India needs leaders with steel and integrity

india Updated: Apr 07, 2009 16:40 IST

They want leaders who will impose military-like discipline and parties which will set goals based on what people need, and they believe that casting their vote is a duty. Akshay Thatte, 19, Sairam S., 20, Alika Koshy, 18, and Noopur Raval, 18, are well-informed students at Christ University, Bangalore, who exchanged notes with us on their game plan for the coming general election. Edited excerpts:

Are you going to vote?

Thatte:No.
Sairam: Yes, I voted for the state assembly polls as well.
Koshy: Yes.
Raval: Yes.
Why are you not going to vote (to Thatte)?
Thatte: I don’t see any party that’s firm enough to take a stand on any issue. No politician bothers about goals and most of the goals are decided by external factors, like who will be the coalition partner. Everybody is too focused on coming to power or how the vote bank is going to work out.
How are you going to decide which party or candidate to choose?
Sairam: I was just thinking about it. It’s more important to make the right choice in an informed manner. There are so many ways to make the choice. I have to take into consideration the candidate, party, regional party or national party. I’m still thinking.
Koshy: I’m researching details like what the party has done in the past and the kind of development they are responsible for.
Raval: I’m a right-wing person. I support whatever they do. The leader might have a tainted or problematic image, but you’ll have to look at their work in the past. Like in Gujarat, where I come from, there is a debate on Narendra Modi’s credentials. As an insider, I see that he’s done so much work. I don’t see any reason why one shouldn’t vote for him. So, in spite of a person’s reputation, I think I’d look out for work done by the party and the candidate.
Are you reading about the general election?
Sairam: Yes, I am. I’m just waiting for the list of candidates to be released and then I think I should be able to make an informed choice.
Koshy: Yes, I scan the newspapers every day and then there’s the Internet, of course.
Everyone is talking about the first-time voters and how they can change the way this country votes. Do you believe that?
Sairam: We will play a role, but we are hardly the majority. It’ll be a long time before the young of the country will be able to bring about a revolution.
Raval: I don’t think it makes a difference. Not only do we not form the majority, but among the young first-time voters, a majority live out of urban India. That is the real India. The urban young lead a cushioned life, so to think that the vote of these young people will or can change everything is a bit exaggerated.
Are your parents encouraging you to vote?
Thatte: They’d be happy if I did. But they haven’t asked anything in specific.
Sairam: We have never discussed it.
Koshy: We’ve never discussed it.
Raval: Yes. My mom is very enthusiastic about elections. She thinks if you have a say, you might as well speak for yourself.
What do you think about politics and politicians in India?
Thatte: I think they are greedy, corrupt and useless.
Sairam: Politicians are hard-working people. I only wish they were focused on issues that can help the country develop faster.
Koshy: I think they are diplomatic, fake and corrupt.
Raval: They are a smart bunch. The moment you become a politician there is so much power at stake that I’m sure it’s hard for someone not to get sucked into that web. But the way they manipulate stuff, it never ceases to surprise me.
Did you vote for your college union election?
Raval: We don’t have a college union. If we had a union, most people in this college might have voted simply because it would be exciting and easy.
What are the things you will look for in the manifestos of political parties before you vote?
Sairam:Well, I am a bit confused. Party manifesto will be a decider but so will the candidate. I’ll look out for whoever is bullish about dealing with unemployment and security of the country.
Raval: I’d vote for a party, because even if you vote for a specific candidate in your constituency, his efficiency depends on whether the party that he belongs to is in power. There’s no point voting for a candidate if he/she is not connected to the Centre.
Did you have any trouble getting registered for voting?
Raval: We registered online through the Jaago Re campaign. I had issues because I had to go back home in Gujarat to get my papers for the sake of identification. Else, it was pretty smooth.
Voting—is it a right or a duty for a citizen?
Sairam: I think it’s a right.
Koshy: As a citizen of a democratic country, I think it’s my duty to elect a leader. Only if I perform my duty can I expect anything.
What do you think of the projected prime ministerial candidates? Do they appeal to you?
Sairam: The BJP has projected L.K. Advani. I think he has the potential to make the cut.
Raval: I think Advani is a good leader. But I wish they had younger and good candidates instead of using young guys like Varun Gandhi for publicity.
Do you think one reason young, educated Indians do not vote is because the candidates/politicians are too old?
Sairam:That could be a point, but I personally think experience counts and it’s the bigger factor.
Thatte: Most decision makers in all parties are over 50. There are no young candidates to choose from, other than Rahul Gandhi. Advani and Atal Bihari Vajpayee grew up in the 1950s; they are very far away from the world we live in.
For you what is the biggest challenge that our political system faces today—candidates educated people cannot identify with, corruption, lack of agenda, or the divide between urban and rural India?
Raval: It’s the lack of will. People are just so laid-back, and that affects everything. It shows that we have a bad attitude towards our country. And it’s not just the politicians; it’s the people as well. Politicians end up spending their tenure worrying about how to keep their "chair" intact instead of working for the good of the country.
Thatte: Most of our politicians are lazy and selfish. Every decision comes with the question of "What’s in it for me?"
What would your ideal candidate be like?
Thatte: I’d like someone like the former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon—someone who is as forceful and strong. He’s even lost elections for being too stern. But in the long run I think his vision worked. A leader needs to be strong, be a good orator and have the ability to gain the trust of the people.
Koshy: Someone who will reverse the reservations policy. Everything should be merit-based.
Raval: We’ve been very soft. Indians are looking for a change. I think military rule will give the country a jolt. It’s time for a leader who will make people realize that it is time to stop being so lax. My ideal candidate will be an embodiment of discipline. Right now we don’t have anybody we can really look up to.

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