"It's cool to vote". This will be the message of fashion designer Shaina NC to nearly one lakh young Mumbaiites at the KJ Somaiya Grounds on Sunday.
The youths will gather for Yuvaratri — a youth festival organised by World Alliance for Youth Empowerment.
A political science graduate and member of Bharatiya Janata Party, Shaina will visit 26 city colleges attached to the Hyderabad-Sindh National Collegiate Board to generate awareness on the importance of exercising the right to vote.
"The youth have a power they are not even aware of," Shaina rues. "If they get involved in the electoral process like they do in their college festivals, imagine the difference they can make."
It was at one such college festival that Shaina noticed the students' detachment from their political surroundings. "Many of them did not even know that the civic elections are coming up," she said. That is when Shaina decided to take the initiative of making college students aware of their right to vote.
Shaina wants voting to become a fad on college campuses this poll season.
Clarifying that she is not doing this as a member of the BJP, she added: "I will just tell them to vote for the candidate they think is right."
With the youth — those in the 18-24 age group — forming nearly 20 per cent of the country's population, political parties seem to be realising the importance of having the youth on their side.
Even the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), a fledgling political party, tried to make inroads into this segment of the population through a recent inter-collegiate cricket and dance contest, 'Ball Dance'.
MNS spokesperson Shirish Parker is confident their exercise will pay off. "There will be an increase in the voting percentage of youth this time," Parker said. "It will play a vital role and will benefit Raj Thackeray immensely."
Manisha Kayande, president of the BJP's women's wing and zoology professor at MD College, Parel, believes that the level of political awareness depends on the area the student comes from.
"If the student is from a politically active area like Parel or Lalbaug, the level of awareness on issues and political incidents is higher," Kayande explained.
Kayande's college, for instance, sees a high degree of political interest among students. "Nearly 3,000 students from our college are members of the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad," she said, adding that there are about 30,000 registered members of the BJP-backed students' organisation.
Other student organisations like the Congress-affiliated National Students' Union of India and the Shiv Sena's Bhartiya Vidyarthi Sena also do their bit by providing college students an opening into politics through students' unions.
However, Indu Shahani, principal of HR College, Churchgate, says her students are very conscious of their rights. "If the youth are being encouraged to vote, it is good," Shahani said. "But they have a mind of their own and I am glad they are not swayed by political parties."