A different exercise for Gen-X
Youths remain seemingly indifferent about their newly acquired status as "first-time voters", says SOMA BASU.
THERE APPEARS to be a bit of both -- an element of disinterest and a faint excitement, some disillusionment and some hope. Sounds clichéd? But then that is how the fearlessly opinionated new generation is. Just out of their teens, they care a damn if their names do not figure in the voter's list. But if they get a voter's card, they will most probably cast their vote.
Punctured promises of political parties makes them wary. Yet they live on a recipe of hope and ambition. The net-browsing mobile-flaunting sunrise generation is confused because it is disenchanted with the Indian polity. But at the same time it is much concerned about pollution and environment protection, malnutrition and food security and is optimistic that one day more honest action will replace plain rambling and rhetorics.
Call them the Gen-X or the E-Gen -- they live, dream, work in the fast lane of life and career but remain seemingly indifferent about their newly acquired status as "first-time voters". That doesn't mean the sense of pride or belonging is totally missing but they don their cool caps and care-a-damn attitude with much ease.
Is the new generation being selfish? The power to vote doesn't enthuse them? They don't want to enjoy the fruits of a participatory democracy?
"Life has become more mechanical now and everybody is bothered about personal growth and progress. Though we are a democratic nation but I feel the electoral process is reduced to a farce by bringing in filmstars and children of prominent political families," says Priyadarshini, II Year B.Sc(Chemistry) student in Lady Doak College.
She admits as a teenager she used to excitedly accompany her parents to the polling booth. Now when her turn has come, she can't figure out how or why her thinking has changed. "I am bored with election news and tired of electoral promises," she says disdainfully.
Her classmate and also a first time voter, Chitra, tries to explain : "Given the inequalities in our society you don't feel voting for any party or candidate is worth the effort. What kind of a democracy we live in where people are still dying of starvation? I hardly have any interest in politics. I would rather concentrate on my studies, make a good career and fulfil my parents' needs."
Politics, crime and foreign affairs may grab all space in media columns but "career, sports and entertainment" dominates the minds of the new generation here. The temple city may be dubbed as a `big village still low on materialism and where people are still very conservative". But when it comes to youth power and thinking, their mindset and attitude, a thread of unity runs from Kashmir to Kanyakumari.
"Will my vote make any difference?" wonders Arun Pradeep of Doak Nagar. "I am not enrolled, neither am I keen to make any special efforts... I don't even know the procedure. Is India really `shining' in every corner... I feel its just a glossy slogan. Have political parties and their poll manifestoes ever talked about issues of the youth... ?" asks this young adult.
A Ist Year B.E (Computer Science) student at Raja Engineering College, N.Deepa, says the lack of interest among the youth brigade is primarily due to the failure of political parties in keeping their promises about basic needs like road, power, water, health and education and the absence of any young charismatic leader who could simply inspire the lot.
"Most politicians are old and corruption breeds in every sector. So why waste time and thoughts on something which brings no gains for us. All parties and their candidates are the same. They make electoral promises and forget them once polls are over. Voting will neither better or worsen my life," opines Visakha, another first-timer. She also adds that her parents don't pester her but do occasionally talk about the importance of voting. "I am not very keen but if my parents get my voter card, I will go and vote," she says.
Visakha's mother follows-up : "Children now are very independent. When I was young, my parents ingrained in me the privileges of voting right and we enjoyed the discussions and went by what our parents told us. Now, children are exposed to new set of rules, they are much more aware and informed and like to take their own decisions."
Madurai has an electorate of over 15 lakhs and 55 per cent of them are in the 18-35 years age-group. And nearly one-third of them are first-timers. They may be suffering from a sense of betrayal by political parties but do agree on "unemployment, price rise and education facilities as priority issues for politicians rather than caste and religion." They may dislike politics, be disinclined to vote or may not have decided yet whether or not to cast their vote with the polling date in Madurai still a good three weeks away.
But there are are the likes of Manju Jesinth and her friends at K.L.N College, who feel that not going for polling is a crime. "If I don't use my vote, somebody else may misuse it" - is the worry of this II Year Electronic Communications student. Besides, she feels, being recognized as an adult to exercise the right to franchise instills confidence. "Today we may feel that politics is only breeding corruption and want to avoid voting. But instead if we display our sense of maturity and vote for the right candidate then someday our constructive contribution will emerge."
Sridevi, pursuing the same course, says : "My single vote may not make an obvious difference immediately. But if we youths start today by thoughtfully selecting an educated uncorrupt candidate who will work for the people, then one day we will be able to change the political climate in the country which is so fraught with unhealthy trends and practices today."
Similarly Rajine Swetha graduating in Biomedical Signals Processing feels that "one should not allow a vote to go waste or be misused." `My excitement is about whether the candidate I vote for wins or not," she says, adding that her candidate of choice should be "educated and promising."
M.Sumitha, a student of Computer Science, admits she "doesn't know much about politics". Yet her feelings vacillate between excitement and pride when she sees her voter card. "I will vote though I do not know whether my choice will be the right one and the person I vote for will win the election," she echoes.
Finishing her Degree in IT from Fatima College, Priya says if she goes to vote it will be for the candidate and not the party. "The track record of the candidate is important - how far he has convinced the people of his constituency with his achieved tasks and promised actions," she says, adding that younger people should be initiated into politics for better delivery of services.
"Though voting is a fundamental right, we become indifferent because senior politicians are not performing correctly," remarks N.Bala Kumar in II Year MCA at Thiagarajar Engineering College. He assures that his generation is not totally out of sync when it comes to understanding or discussing politics. "But cumbersome processes and unkempt promises frustrates us easily. What we need is a right mix of inspiration and choice to feel enthusiastic about elections," he says, also adding that everyone should unfailingly cast their vote.
R.Jagen, a B.E graduate from Raja Engineering College feels if election issues are more "area-specific, need-based and target-oriented" like creating job opportunities locally, or lowering bus fare for students, or getting local heroes for campaigning, there will be a new drive at the hustings.
His friend, Senthil Kumar, endorses : "No political party looks at youth issues or motivates them to feel happy on becoming the real citizens of the country. It is sad that those of us who are interested in voting perhaps may not be having a voter's card. And those who have either don't vote or remain undecided and make a last minute choice which may not necessarily be the correct one."
The novelty of stepping into adulthood and becoming a voter may or may not sway with the new millennium generation. However, the Janata Party candidate, Dr.Subramaniam Swamy says optimistically, "the youth is not so disinterested as it may appear. If they are provided with proper information and get opportunities to interact with parties sensitive to local, civil and social needs of people, such a feeling will not be there."
Advocating that colleges and universities should invite politicians for debates and tap the political knowledge and aspirations of students, he asserts, "Democracy is not a spectators' sport. Everybody should participate and students must learn to vote"
The cool and well-informed, fiercely independent and over-exposed self-seekers ready with their maiden votes may just go this way or that. It is not easy to hazard a guess.
One can only wait for their verdict.
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