“They pulled the trigger. You push the button.” This ad-campaign released by the Action for Good Governance and Networking in India (AGNI), a citizens group of Mumbai dedicated to encouraging people to vote, says it all.
November 26, 2008, and the days immediately after when the city came under attack from 10 terrorists were the tipping point. Suddenly citizens were aware of their rights: security for themselves and accountability from politicians. They gathered in their thousands at the Gateway of India to protest government failure.
And five months later, when the city goes to the polls on April 30, several activists groups are urging Mumbaikars to not just vote but to vote for the right people.
“The Mumbai terror attacks only told us one thing.The system has broken down. And that if we do not rise up, our democracy will be taken away one day. The only way is to vote for people who will not take us for granted,” said Father Warner, of the Mount Carmel School, the brain behind the Vote at 8 campaign. This initiative requests people to reach their polling booths at 8 am — and prevent bogus voting.
Warner’s sentiment is shared by a several groups in the city that are focused on youth and first-time voters, who account for almost 15 per cent of Mumbai’s 1.17 crore voters.
“This election will see the power of youth and politicians are being forced to take note. But we have to see that this energy is channelised the right way and that these young minds make an informed choice,” said Gerson Da Cunha, Founder AGNI.
Two groups formed by youngsters are trying to drive this message home using the Internet.
Voteindia.in, an online project is helping new voters register and gives them information about the candidates. “It is not only important to vote, but to make sure you know whom you are voting for, since the youth can create a huge swing in this election. First time voters tend to vote for parties their families have been traditionally voting for, or just by instinct,” said Ankit Srivastava, a founder member of voteindia.in.
Mumbaivotes.com will also be putting up affidavits, legislative records, promises, and news articles on contestants of the six Mumbai constituencies. “It is important to know what your sitting MP has done in the past five years, how your money has been spent,” said Sejal Mody, of mumbaivotes.com.
But pockets of Mumbai suburbs will witness a more in-your-face campaign by about 100 youngsters. They will wear orange “I won’t vote for criminals” badges till polling day.
“The whole sentiment behind this campaign is that if we vote for people with criminal backgrounds, how are they going to keep a check on the system. We do not want to tell people whom to vote for, but only request them to vote for a clean candidate who has citizen accountability,” said Anil Joseph, member, Khar Residents Association, which supports the campaign.
So how are the politicians taking all this citizen activism? “The youth of today are bright. We as politicians are accountable to them completely,” said Priya Dutt, sitting MP who is contesting from North Central. Dutt has made herself available online through her personal website and also through groups on all social networking sites such as orkut, facebook and twitter, trying to communicate to them in their language.
South Mumbai MP Milind Deora has gone one step further. He has involved youth in his political campaign. Fifty commerce students from South Mumbai’s HR College have turned into poll-interns.
The Shiv Sena’s sitting MP from Mumbai South Central Mohan Rawale had this to say: “I really appreciate that citizen groups are creating awareness on the right of voting, but I feel sad that this awakening came only after a terrorist attack.”