In the end, the groundswell of anger was too evident and pronounced to be missed. The general elections earlier this year marked another moment in India's history: a rare awakening among the young to stop despairing at the way their country is being run, and lead the change. Disenchanted, but no less engaged, India's young ensured their presence was noticed, and their voice heard.
No wonder then that Prime Minister Narendra Modi struck a chord with India’s young, dwarfing Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, in the popularity sweepstakes of the fourth HT-MaRS Youth Survey, conducted over 15 cities among more than 5,000 respondents in the 18-25-year age group. The 63-year-old PM was voted the most an inspirational political figure by 65% of the respondents. In contrast, only 22% found the 44-year-old Gandhi inspiring. Gujarat's largest city Ahmedabad (96%), Pune (90%) and Chandigarh (88%) turned impressive figures for the PM.
Says political analyst Jai Mrug, “It marks the dawn of a mature democracy in India where content matters more than age and background. It is difficult for someone to get elected in India just because the person belongs to a particular political party.”
Expert speak: Young leaders a slight attraction for young voters, says Sanjay Kumar
Sanjay Kumar, director of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, says Gandhi’s is a case of right person in the wrong party. “He is young and has new ideas. But whatever advantage he had was overshadowed by the party’s performance,” he said.
“A young political leader like him may be an attraction for the youth, but that’s not the sole deciding factor when it comes to voting. Factors such as party, issues, castes, too, play a crucial role,” he added.
That India's young took an active part in this year's elections is clear from the numbers of those who voted: 70% of the total sample size confirmed they exercised their franchise, with both men (68%) and women (71%) returning very impressive figures. The numbers from individual cities were unusually high: Jaipur recorded a high 86%, while Kolkata and Patna recorded 83%. There was, however, a marginal dip in the 18-21 age group in which only 59% said they exercised their franchise in these elections.
First timers in the sample size, however, didn't make a big majority: only 57% said they took part in the exercise for the first time this year. The cities, however, turned more promising numbers: Bangalore (76%) and Ranchi 74%) were among the top cities.
Youth Speak: Politicians must deliver on their promises
The anti-corruption demonstrations of 2011 and the street protests of 2013 demanding strict laws to curb violence against women are prime examples of how this class, once considered disinterested and ignorant, is becoming an active participant in issues of national interest and politics.
The survey reveals that youngsters who voted the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to power were attracted more by Modi than his party. Among those who voted for the BJP and the saffron party's allies, 83% said they did so primarily for Modi. Only a small percentage of 8% said they voted primarily for the party.
The scenario reverses in the case of the Congress. Among those who voted for the Congress and its allies, 44% said they did so primarily for the party and 36% primarily for Gandhi.
Modi’s march to the top post came despite rumbles within the BJP following his anointment as the party’s prime ministerial candidate in September last year and sections of civil society opposing the move over the 2002 post-Godhra riots in his home state Gujarat.
“The BJP’s victory was powered by Modi. He was the prime catalyst. It defies the theory that the party’s image or organisational capacity matter in its victory,” said Mrug.
All through his election campaign, Modi used various platforms including social media to publicise the Gujarat model of development coupled with the promise of good governance.
The two points made a significant contribution to the BJP’s victory, as 47% of respondents said they got attracted by the combination.
7 graphs to explain the youth and politics | Voters | First time voters | Why BJP | Why Congress | Not voted | Opinions
Full coverage: HT-MaRS Youth Survey 2014