In Delhi, Kushal Kant Mishra, 33, an orthopaedic surgeon at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), was catching up on sleep at 6pm when we met him in a cramped hostel room. His Youth For Equality (YFE) comrades Jiten Jain, 24, a software engineer, and Aman Kumar, 20, a law student, were trying to decide which Delhi park they should campaign in, the next morning. Dr Mishra works for the YFE every day from 6-9am and again in the evening, after his shift at the hospital. The YFE was set up in Delhi in 2006 as an anti-reservation movement in educational institutes. As of January, it has a political wing too. It has around 20,000 registered members, including doctors, lawyers, engineers, and academics, in 27 cities and 14 states.
The YFE does not yet have the resources to field candidates from all the constituencies in Delhi. "For us, this election is a test run. We want to set an example to political parties and to the general public on how an election should be conducted. We want to use the New Delhi constituency as a role model project for India," says Dr Mishra. They are following, they say, "the Barack Obama model—small donations from small people and donations in kind". The YFE has two scooters, a Toyota Innova van, a computer and an office space in Gautam Nagar, all of which have been donated. They also have a big presence on the Web through networking sites and blogs.
Rural vs urban
In the realm of campaigning, the Internet is the other novel thing in this election. The grand old man of the 2009 election, Advani, has had to adapt to changing times. Long before Sarabhai announced her candidature as his opponent, Advani was photographed lifting weights in a gym. He started writing a blog and has a Facebook group which describes him as "The Iron man of India".
Rahul Gandhi, 37, has the obvious edge when it comes to navigating this new, young voters’ landscape. In February, he announced a national team, meant to boost the Congress’ youth wing, comprising people from varied backgrounds—all of them were under 40.
One of them, 29-year-old Navodaya Murali, who was appointed general secretary of the Youth Congress, Andhra Pradesh, comes from a family of farmers in a village in southern Andhra Pradesh. He worked with Mithrudu, an NGO founded by social worker M.V. Rajendar, in Hyderabad before he set up his own NGO, the Navodaya Trust, and then a real estate company, Navodaya Properties. Gandhi heard about his work in the fields of health and education in rural Andhra, and asked him to join the Youth Congress. "Being part of a big party has helped me disseminate the message. I still don’t talk hard politics when I meet people on behalf of the party. I tell young people not to expect heroes, but to be a hero yourself," Murali says over the phone. He is strikingly different from the youngsters I met or talked to in Mumbai and Pune. He believes that the big changes can come only if there are changes in rural India—by far a much bigger slice of the electoral pie, one which holds the key to electoral fortunes; and synonymous with strong-arm tactics and vote-bank politics. Murali thinks little of urban-centric politics.
But in Mumbai, Mascarenhas and his friends did their bit with a sense of purpose. On a Sunday morning, a few of them assembled at Bandra’s Mount Carmel Church to educate the parish about the voting process. They fielded questions about parties, candidates and constituencies. "We city people have the most important vote," Mascarenhas told the small gathering, echoing what his guru, Narayan, had told the motley gathering at the press club a few days earlier: "Why do we romanticize the village so much? Unless urban India gives its mandate, there can’t be any progress in rural India. It has to be a trickle-down effect. Politicians from villages have failed us long enough."
Voting might just be the coolest thing to do during this election.