How Young India Voted?

In the crowded alleys of Chawri Bazar in Old Delhi, amidst the din of daily bustle — labourers bathing, snoozing outside shuttered shops, reading newspapers and sipping tea — 23-year-old Heena Bharadwaj excitedly reveals her inked index finger. A physiotherapist by profession, this was the first time Bharadwaj had voted; she said she voted for change.

Bharadwaj said she was excited to have voted for newcomer Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). “I want to see change. Politicians today are simply lining their pockets with money. At least the AAP cares about the real issues.”

With 120 million first-time voters among India’s 814 million-strong electorate, Delhi witnessed a 65.09 per cent turnout on April 10, much higher than the 2009 figure, which was an appalling 51.85 per cent. According to government data, 65 per cent of India’s population is aged 35 or less, a third of India’s population is under 15, more than half under 24, while around 150 million are eligible to vote for the
first time.

Over 100 million voters have been added to the electorate since 2009. Interestingly, the male to female ratio of the young first-time voter is a little less than equal. A recent report by the United Nations states that along with “vibrancy” among young people, there is great anger too. According to government data, although growth averaged 8.7 per cent from 2005 to 2010, only one million jobs were created, leaving 59 million new entrants into the labour market with nothing.

For Bharadwaj, the core issues are security and safety of women, reservations, and the end of corruption. “Women have become unsafe in this country, especially in Delhi. They cannot go out alone. Also, reservation for STs and SCs promotes open bias against the general category. I want equality for all,” she said, “This is why I voted today.”

Her brother, Vishal Bharadwaj, 19, was also voting for the first time. A hotel management student, Vishal voted for AAP and said he wanted the local problems solved. “There are big issues like corruption but I voted to seek solutions for problems in our area,” he said.

The interesting phenomenon this election is witnessing is the increasing interest of the middle and the upper-class young Indian voters who want to make their presence felt. The most important issues concerning the youth in this election revolve around better employment opportunities, allocation of 5 per cent of GDP to education, and inflation, and corruption. Having been disillusioned with the incumbent government that has been marred by scams and corruption, the youth are looking for a better alternative. This has given an edge to the opposition Hindu nationalist party that has been using the face of the Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, to garner votes in the name of development.

The new entrant, AAP,  had raised hopes among young Indians as it won 28 seats in the Delhi assembly elections in 2013. After it renounced the government in Delhi alleging a conspiracy by the Congress and BJP to hinder the passing of the Jan Lokpal Bill in the assembly, the urban youth became more disillusioned.

Sachin Gupta, 32, a businessman from Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi, says he voted for the Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) “to solve the problems of taxes and stabilize the economy”. For him, AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal, who is contesting against Modi from Varanasi, is a “good man but has no experience”. “We had given him a chance in Delhi but he ran away from his responsibilities. How can he handle the country?”
he asked.

Besides corruption, the major issues that the youth want the new government to tackle lack of jobs and reforming of the education system. “The education system is in a doldrums. The new government should create better education facilities and a more student-friendly system,” said Nasreen, 21, a Delhi University student.

“Initiating an Employment Guarantee Scheme that provides respectable work to young people right in their hometowns can possibly transform the dream into reality,” said Suresh Raman, 30.

In an attempt to encourage more Indian citizens to vote, even Facebook has introduced features like ‘I am a voter’, ‘Know your Neta’, ‘Register to vote’ on its website. The Internet and Mobile Association of India estimated that a well-executed social media campaign could swing 3–4 per cent of the votes. In the 24 hours following the announcement of the election, the mention of ‘election’ went up by 561% and ‘Lok Sabha’ by 150% among Facebook users in India.

In 2009, the popular vote share of the BJP was 78 million while that of the Congress was 119 million. Today, over 93 million people in India are engaging actively every month on Facebook. Modi is now the second most ‘liked’ politician,  behind only President Barack Obama, with 12.8 million fans, with the 18-24 age group being the most active.

With issues like water, safety, inflation, corruption, etc, the youth want a quick solution. “Corruption has gone up and the country has gone down. You have to bribe to get any work done. I voted to change that attitude,” said Dinesh Singh, 20, who voted in Greater Kailash.

“The Congress is synonymous with corruption today, and it was their failure of governance that gave an edge to the BJP,” said 29-year-old Rajeev, a driver. He said he voted for AAP but his 27-year-old wife, Sunita, who voted for the first time, voted for the BJP.

Mohammed Sami, 26, a PhD student, said he was banking on AAP to “end the cycle of unemployment and discrimination against Muslims”. He voted for the new party though his family still supports the Congress. “We have had enough of the Congress,” he said, as he came out of the polling booth in Okhla, the East Delhi constituency.

Whatever the issues, the fired up young Indian voters believe in the power of their votes and are determined to choose the next government wisely. Aneesha, a 24-year-old student, said she voted to stem the rising prices, while Imran, another student, said he voted for the party that promised better living conditions for the poor. Komal, 18, had economic development and the bane of corruption in mind when she voted, while Ashish, 20, said internal security and having stricter anti-terrorism laws resonated with him the most in deciding his vote.