India General Elections 2014: A Muddled State of Affairs from the Youth Perspective

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The Industrial Process of Electioneering

From the start General Elections 2014 was no less than a functioning industrial unit, producing output in tonnes. The elections were a month long process where a population close to 814 million people were expected to cast their votes to determine their representatives from 543 parliamentary constituencies across the country.Much of this contest was based on local realities and dilemmas which Indians will have to accommodate to. There has been a total absence of discussions on issues like infrastructure bottlenecks, inflation, banking, easiness of doing business at the policy level. There were mere hollow promises and empty orchestrations. Of course exceptions to this were promises to introduce new paths to economic growth, to create a competitive environment, and to ensure that people would be free to be a part of it. However, these were standards philosophised by the election industry and the country still is waiting to see the modalities of it in practice. Given that this industry treated India as a homogenous unit where all these changes and philosophies could be incorporated, it was essential to understandprimarily whether it could indeed be a homogenous bundle. If not how diversified is this bundle of voters that the industry has attempted to woo?From the perspective of the youth it appears that the task of homogenization might not be easy for the new government. The reasons are observed below.

The Muddle

Amidst expectations, elections in India have remained and continues to be a process where both the non-believers and bystanders gets drawn to the tunes to politics. The drums beat loud, the loud speakers never tire and candidates pull out the crowd in large numbers. What makes this possible? This is possible because majority of the people in India are deprived and continue to be deprived of basic essentials due to a complicated system of state activities. They have expectedly been looking towards the state for their share and the state has continuously come up with one ingenious scheme after the other to keep them longing for more. Such piece meal offers has kept the poor and the needy as a major vote bank which just like the ‘commons’ have been exploited incessantly. On the other hand there has been a complete silence of how the debt raised to sponsor these schemes would be handled. What this has created is a situation where perception of reality by these votersis much different from what it actually is. Multimillion dollar schemes like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme(MGNREGS)has created anillusion that poverty and unemployment could be cured, but the distortions it creates in the market tends to be forgotten. The cases presented before the laymen are not the whole but only a part of the story. This has in it the biggest problem of distorting the individual’s ability to reason out the best choice for himself. Deep down the constituencies this distortion is perceived in a scattered system of choices and preference of individual voters, especially the youth. They lack consistency and exhibit a curious scepticism to what modernity has to offer them. They have become a heterogeneous category of citizen-youths differently exposed to the process of state control. To choose has not been the choice of many but yet come the elections and they dance amidst the fray.

 

The Federal State and its different Youth

Federal states in India does not think alike. And for that matter this differential thought also percolates down to its constituent population. This makes it all the more difficult to predict the output of the General Elections 2014; it has all possibilities of ending up being a coalition. The question that should then confront the policy maker would be on how far uniform policies across the nation would suit states with different preferences. Would greater autonomy to the states make a lot of difference in economic and political gains to the nation?There was a conspicuous absence of policy discussion on decentralisation and empowering local governments in this election. Manifesto of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a front runner expecting majority in the parliament, discusses empowering Mayor but how and what empowerment, it lacks clarity. A decision on this regard should start with understanding the young voter and his preferences.

The Youth

But is there a homogenous categories called the young voter in India?There are 24 million new voters between 18-19 age group a good many which falls under what India proudly considers as its demographic dividend. But the youth, a larger set, in India today are faced on all sides not by the competing ‘other’ but by severe challenges and constraints put by the state in their way forward. It is hence not without reason that the young voters are looking forward to mitigating these challenges. In each of these steps forward the requirement has been to get more politicized. This is a positive sign in the sense that in urban areas more of them are getting networked to each other; they are increasingly becoming opinionated against prejudices they face; they discuss and expect a secure future; and in the course of this have slowly but steadily entered the decisive realm of politics in a democracy. However, certain key observations indicate that life as it was could become more challenging for them in India. The youth weigh democracy in different terms and prioritize issues differently. It reflects the fact that a consensus and mature understanding of the process is lacking among them across the nation. What arise is a complete lack of understanding of the individual choices and a tangled set of preferences from which they are unable to prioritize the best for a democratic government. Some of these issues are noted below.

The surrendering regionalism

The first amongst this divergent choices are the distinct patterns of preferences towards regional and national politics in India. In urban centres where the young are more exposed to the national as well as regional political issues, they have also attempted to weigh the costs and benefits of these issues. The Centre for Public Policy Research (CPPR) surveyshows that in urban constituencies there is a perceptive change towards nationalism and a limited intolerance to the regional political parties. Sixty nine percent of the respondents preferred national political parties to regional parties in urban constituencies in Maharashtra. However, the opposite is seen in the case of rural Tamil Nadu where the majority prefers regional to national parties. The reason in a large way is linked to their belief on the stability of coalitions and the need to prioritize national to regional development in these two states. Such divergences were mostly the result of inconsistencies in policies across the federal states.

An evolving spirit of democracy

Youthin India believe that democratic principles were decisive in determining the outcome of general elections 2014. Although nepotism and corruption were reported as discouraging features in India, very few considered these to be issues which could make them loose their interest in the political process.  As against the popular notion that growing concerns like violence against women brought the youth together in the fight for justice, it has to be contended that this might not have been a pan-India trend. The youth were more for strengthening governance and pushing forward the development agenda while there is a perceived ignorance on the glaring omissions met by the state in controlling violence in the society. These issues should be viewed and evaluated in the larger context of a civilized community. So what emerges from the study is that freedom under democracy is not viewed in its totality. Only a small number of peopleranked violence against women or minorities as influencing their voting behaviour. But an overwhelming percentage of the youth considered that corruption could be a decisive feature influencing them. These observations also indicate that threats to existence and dark areas in the development process has been confined to a few, but the growing presence and influence of the state is felt by many. This is a challenge that has to be dealt with. The question looms large: Should the state to determine all our activities? If so, what would it be to define freedom in this context? What arises is the need for an alternative to reduce increasing redtapism and constant big brother attitude of the state.

A split in the belief in online social networks  

What was seen during the campaigning process of General Elections 2014 was the increasing use of social media platforms as a tool to woo voters. Considering the fact that India had less than 20 per cent of its population using the internet, the strategy to use the internet as a campaigning tool was expected to influence only selected voters.  Across the country there is a differential attitude to the use of social media. There are constituencies where an overwhelming number of people who talked to CPPR considered social media to be indecisive. In many of these constituencies the number of active users’ of the internet has been very low. Even in the urban centre, there was no clear majority in the number of people who considered social media to be decisive. However, what is seen is that people who were active users of social media also had a different perception of the political realities in the country. Their choices were markedly different from the non-users especially with their understanding of the factors that could determinethe election results. While the non-users preferred leadership and candidature, the active users mainly looked at the question of corruption and economic issues. Although majority of the youth felt that social media was mot decisive in formulating their opinions the above result shows the contrary.

Reflections

To read into the hearts of these results would be a futile exercise until there is more information. However, in between the limitationswhat emerges is a picture of an indecisive youth, wanting fruits of democracy but confused with the path through which it is progressing. There are sceptics among them and occasional agnostics. The reason for such a situation is the long gap between the nation and its constituent federal states filled with innumerable intermediaries gaining from this disconnect. This results in a situation where there is a serious lack of unanimity in policies that could bind them; there are occasional transgressions on law when people of different states collide; there are inconsistencies in sharing the development pie where the best players often ending up gettingthe worst. What the study highlights is a need for the new government to make the laws clearer, to end policy logjams between the centre and the state and between the states itself, and to create a level ground promotingfree and fair competition among the federal state and its young population. This would be the first step in making sense of the presently heterogeneous bundle of youth that India considers as its demographic dividend.

 

By

Rahul V Kumar

Associate Research Consultant

Centre for Public Policy Research

 



 This article is attempts to reflect on the findings of a survey conducted by the Centre for Public Policy Research (CPPR) across selected constituencies in India during the eve of the general elections in India 2014.

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