Bouyed by public outrage after 26/11, an imaginative public campaign to galvanise the youth to register as voters — as the first step to cleansing the country’s political system — has notched up a target of two lakh people, three months into its launch. And one in every four is from Mumbai.
The campaign, evocatively titled, Jaago Re (Awaken), is the brainchild of Bangalore-based corporate executive-turned-social worker Jasmine Shah of non-profit group Janaagraha (Alert Public).
A carefully-designed website with a simple and clean interface, www.jaagore.com, takes the citizen through the registration process by getting them to fill up the required form. The completed form is then delivered to the person’s inbox to print out and take to their election registration officer, with supporting documentation. Details of the latter are provided on the site.
In the following days, the website keeps track of the official process, sends you a text when electoral rolls in your area are put out, and tells you what to do if your name is not on it. In the run-up to the 2009 elections, you can log on to the site to know your candidates, their antecedents and their work in public life.
If you seek greater involvement, you can register at the site as a booth or area volunteer. This will essentially mean helping take the campaign to the ground to the unregistered voters in your neighbourhood.
The Jaago Re experiment is designed to simplify your registration as a voter. If your name does not appear on the electoral rolls, the team will help you officially address the issue.
In the run-up to national elections next summer, the website will also provide you information on your candidates and constituency in an effort to help you make an informed choice.
It draws on the oft-repeated premise that greater youth participation will result in better political representatives. The first hurdle to achieving this: over 30 crore Indians under the age of 30 are eligible to vote, but only one out of 10 have registered themselves to do so, according to the group.
Shah (27), an IIT-trained engineer said: “Young Indians do not vote only out of apathy. Our prior work showed that the process to do so puts them off. We realised that addressing this specific problem through a simple use of technology was more effective than a dozen campaigns telling people to go and vote.” (See box: How it works)
“Since 26/11, we have seen a greater interest in public issues,” said Prashant Nanaware (22), an energetic journalist-turned-campaigner who has been taking the initiative since September to the youth in offices and educational institutions across Mumbai. “But change does not come in a day, and we want this feeling to translate into something concrete. Registering as a voter is the first step to that larger involvement.”
The campaign is now gaining ground, and the latest boost comes from the vice-chancellor of the University of Mumbai.
"Starting January 1, there will be letters sent to all colleges asking them to join us and ensure that every student is registered,” said Reben Mascarenes (21) of the group Loksatta, which is partnering the process.