If there is one striking feature to distinguish this election from previous ones, it’s the focus on the young voter. From actor Imran Khan to Congress scion Rahul Gandhi, the messages relayed through media adverts and political speeches have all urged India’s young voters to stop being apathetic and to come out and “make a difference”. Unfortunately, merely coming out and voting doesn’t really indicate that candidates are reflecting your concerns or listening to you.
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In order to reach the needs and ideas of young people in Bangalore to the political parties in the electoral fray, the Resurgent India Trust set up by Professor Rajeev Gowda, of the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, held a half-day Youth Manifesto event at IIM-B. The intention behind the event was to provide a platform to consolidate the youth voice and for young leaders to listen to fresh ideas. Although Prof Gowda is a member of the Congress Party, Resurgent India was set up as a non-partisan organisation working towards youth empowerment through events such as career fairs for young people in Bangalore.
Pre-registration was conducted online, a simple form inviting ideas and suggestions for reform which then led to the selection of over seventy young people between the ages of 18- 35. Some of them were college students from National Law School, Christ College and Mount Carmel College, but there were an equal number of professionals: bankers, software engineers and so on as well as the occasional performance artist and poet. Microsoft teamed up with Resurgent India to blog the proceedings live from the venue.
After an introductory presentation by Prof Gowda detailing India’s demographic dividend which favours the youth, the group broke up into five sessions: ‘education, ‘environment’, ‘women’s issues’, ‘sports’ and ‘other issues’. These sessions were held in separate classrooms and moderated by Radha Ganesan, education consultant; Vinuta Gopal from Greenpeace India; Arvind Narrain of the Alternative Law Forum; Joseph Ollapally and Hakimuddin Habibullah of Go Sports and Deepak Rajendran of Microsoft India. Participants were invited to share their concerns and brain-storm, with some guidance from the moderators, to come up with a 10-12 point manifesto.
The room in which the ‘women’s issues’ sessions was held also displayed a poster exhibition by Fearless Karnataka (a collective against violence on women), detailing attacks against women and sexual minorities in Karnataka in the recent past. Collages of news reports and posters questioning what we mean by “Indian culture” were also displayed around the classroom.
After an hour of brain storming and often heated debate, by around 11:30 AM, the group reconvened in the auditorium to allow one or two participants from each group to present their ideas to young leaders Krishna Byregowda (President, Karnataka Youth Congress and Bangalore South candidate) and R K Misra (National Executive Member, BJP) in a session moderated by Prof Gowda.
The young leaders, Byregowda and Misra, were dressed identically in green shirts and beige trousers, prompting Prof Gowda to comment that young leaders share similar mindsets!
The leaders responded to the points made by each group, with R K Misra emphasising the need for groups to present immediately actionable plans and clearly defined agendas. As a member of the BJP, he took credit for the increase in the frequency of Volvo buses in Bangalore and invited young people to join him to work on the ABIDe (Agenda for Bengaluru Infrastructure and Development) Task Force, assuring them that their concerns over road infrastructure would be taken up by the group. Byregowda spoke of Congress’ support of the Right To Information (RTI) Act, assuring young voters that it would only be strengthened in the future.
Apart from a few exceptions such as those mentioned above, the politicians’ responses were mostly directly at the feasibility and importance of the points suggested by the presenters. That is, until the issue of moral policing arose. The ‘women’s issues’ group representative was describing their manifesto, mentioning the importance of upholding ‘the right to love’ (which is interpreted as the right to love someone irrespective of their religion, sex et cetera) when Byregowda responded with the view that “societal pressure” may be more responsible than political influence for curtailing young people’s freedoms.
We invite comments and suggestions, because Saturday’s event was only the start of a much longer process seeking to involve young people in helping to set a political agenda.
Arvind Narrain of the Alternative Law Forum, in the audience, then got up to emphasise that the current situation in Karnataka reeked of more than state indifference – it reeked of state complicity in acts of violence against women. Byregowda warmed to this theme, waving the recent PUCL (K) (People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Karnataka) report on moral policing in the state and quoting from it, the statement of Karnataka’s Home Minister V S Acharya that the situation wasn’t serious as no-one had died.
The audience responded to Byregowda with appreciative claps, and R K Misra was left with the daunting task of responding. He bravely replied that he had done a lot of “soul-searching” before joining the BJP and clarified that the Mangalore pub attacks were carried out by a ‘gentleman’ who was not with the BJP. Misra said he has conveyed to his party leadership that, “BJP has lost 20% of the vote because of what’s happening,” and that if there was ever a reason he would leave the party, it would be over issues such as these (moral policing and cultural vigilantism) since he is “a father and a husband first”. He reminded young voters who were cheering Byregowda that "the vote is the best way to show what you feel".
The five manifestos were then compiled into a single document which has now been put online. Comments have been invited on the site and based on feedback and suggestions, Resurgent India is considering the possibility of creating more fora at which young people can come together to interact and brainstorm on issues related to politics and governance. ⊕