Do Bengaluru's youth vote?

Do Bengaluru's youth vote?

Elections are not new to India. The system of electing the most deserving candidate as a leader through a mark on the voter's index finger prevailed in the country even before she got independence from the British rule. But then, the right to vote was a privilege given to only a select few.

Today, election brings with it drama which nobody can ignore. Now, the privilege to vote is extended to everybody who is above the age of 18 and is a citizen and resident of India. However, does this mean that everybody who is eligible to vote will vote? Not necessarily!

In the 2014 general elections, the voter turnout was approximately 66.4% only. In 2013 Karnataka Assembly elections, it was 72%. In Bengaluru, the world's most dynamic city, the voter turnout was a mere 58%. Therefore, it will be a huge mistake to assume that everyone who is eligible to vote will vote. But more importantly, what could be the reason for such a poor turnout?

To assess this, we conducted a detailed survey in Bengaluru. The total respondents were 1,820 of which 46% were female. Our aim was to find the voting consciousness among Bengaluru's youth and hence all the respondents were in the age bracket of 18 to 35 years. In order to have a more inclusive analysis, the data was collected ward-wise. The results of our analysis were quite surprising.

When asked whether the respondents thought it was important to vote, 76% of them strongly agreed but 55% of the total respondents had not actually voted in the previous election. What a paradox! Surprisingly, 30% of the total respondents did not even have voter's ID.

Some of the other reasons for not choosing to vote were travelling, dissatisfaction with the candidates and lack of faith in the electoral process.

In the recent Gujarat elections, almost 5.5 lakh people chose 'None of the Above' (NOTA) when they voted which is nearly 2% of the total electoral there. About 52% of the respondents we met were not aware of the NOTA option at all. Hence, 'not satisfied with the candidates' was one of the prime reason for not voting at all.

The strategies that political parties come up with to get a majority to rule over the 'common man' is mind-boggling. So, we decided to find out the strategies which the youth use to get to know about the election candidates.

Unsurprisingly, the option that topped the list was a tool that today's youth literally live in: 'the virtual world of social media'. Rallies, on which all parties in Karnataka spend crores of taxpayers' money, stands fourth among the six options cited.

Meanwhile, election manifestoes still appear to be an important document influencing the youth's vote in Bengaluru. The much-hyped 'party leadership' option did not matter much to the young voters in Bengaluru, for whom grassroots development was more important.

Lack of engagement

So, while voting consciousness among Bengaluru's youth is visible, their engagement in governance is still missing as a whopping 45% of the total respondents were unaware of who their ward corporator was.

The need for a change in the candidates standing for elections was observed. For good governance, it is vital for the government to develop a rapport with the voters. This tends to happen only when the candidates are amid the voters, interacting and engaging with them in the development process.

But that does not seem to be true with most of the candidates and hence young voters are often dismissive about the electoral process. It must be noted that dynasty politics, which was once the success mantra, will not work among the youth in Bengaluru today.

No doubt, the youth tend to distance themselves from politics and politicians. But they must understand that democracy is the most inclusive and sought-out option under the types of government systems. So, if one is unhappy with the way things are being done in the society, then the first step towards correcting it is to go out and vote.

If one thinks that no candidate is deserving, then there is always the option of NOTA. But a mark on the index finger is necessary to show your responsibility towards the building an ideal society with good and accountable governance. As Jens Stoltenberg said, "By voting, we add our voice to the chorus that forms opinions and the basis for actions."

(The writer is a faculty in the Department of Economics, Mount Carmel College and an adviser in Applied Policy Research Foundation)

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