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Will BJP maintain its advantage over first-time voters? Congress keeps fingers crossed

By Mahesh Trivedi*
Polling in five of the seven phases in India’s crucial general elections has been wound up, yet political parties still don’t have the foggiest idea whether young voters, who form two-thirds of India’s 1.3-billion population, will tilt the scales in their favour. In each of the 543 parliamentary constituencies has a significant 10 to 15 per cent electors aged under 35 years who have the power to swing the vote in any direction.
A record number of 84 million new voters registered on the rolls include an astounding 15 million bubblegum rockers in the 18-19 age group who, thanks to smartphones, have become politically aware but are as unpredictable as the weather. It is these Y-people, who have been keeping their cards close to their chest.
Congress, the leading opposition party, for instance, isn’t sure which way these voters will vote. A senior Congress leader, talking with this correspondent, admitted that during the last Lok Sabha polls in 2014, about 23 million of the nearly 820 million voters had cast their vote for the first time.
“Some 39 per cent of first-time voters are believed to have cast their ballots in favour of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), while our party managed to get just 19 per cent of the support of new voters,” he added.
In other words, while the BJP had significant advantage among the first-time voters, the other parties, with a combined vote share of 50 per cent, could obtain only 42 per cent votes from the first-timers, with, of course, parties like Aam Aadmi Party, Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party bagging more support from the young voters.
With the 2019 ballotbox battle being seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi who is seeking a second term, the shrewd strategist has attempted to rouse nationalist fervour by exhorting young voters to ‘dedicate’ their votes to the armed forces involved in the Balakot air strikes, possibly to combat the youths’ growing anger over job crisis now at its worst -- unemployment rate zoomed to 7.6 per cent in April–under his government.
But the Generation X citizen is no babe in the woods. As KH Patel, former Indian ambassador to African countries pointed out, the yuppies and yumpies are ambitious and impatient for change, giving a thumbs-down to issues such as caste and religion unlike their elders and are more concerned about education, pollution, job opportunities and women’s safety.
As a recent comprehensive survey by Inshorts, a no-nonsense news app, revealed, an overwhelming 85% of young men and women think that voting should be compulsory, and recognise the importance of voting and want to exercise their rights as citizens of a democratic country.
“This could be due to the fact that there has been a general increase in political awareness over the last few years. Youth, especially, are able to engage with political issues through mediums such as social media and online forums,” explains Azhar Iqbal, CEO of Inshorts.
However, many millennials working or studying abroad or out of town or living away from their home states have doubts about the authenticity of the electronic voting machines and do not travel back to their homes to exercise their franchise.
As Iqbal suggested, one of the ways that this could have been solved was through the introduction of a digital system that allowed Indian youth to vote away from their hometowns. “Since many young voters are already adept at using the internet, a digital voting system might be more convenient and effective in getting the youth population to vote,” opines the Inshorts CEO.
But BJP youth wing president Poona Mahajan claims that farmers, women and youth are voting for the saffron party as they believe in the decisive leadership of Narendra Modi. “People say there was a Modi wave in 2014. It’s a tsunami this time, which will destroy all Opposition,” she says as polling for 169 of 543 seats is still to be held in three more phases till May 19 with results expected on May 23.
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*Senior Gujarat-based journalist. A version of this article was first published in Doha Globe

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