Tuesday, April 28, 2009

WHERE ARE THE VOTERS OF AND FOR YOUNGISTAN?

Bangalore was supposed to be the showcase of a young, cosmopolitan, secular India that wanted to break free of the shackles of communal politics and octogenarian leaders. It was also the city that sections of India's media had been focusing on to highlight what they thought was a great rural-urban divide, and show to the rest of India and indeed the world that the young, vibrant India that they were showing in TV studios debates and chat shows was the real thing. What better way to prove you are right than through elections?

Unfortunately, after completion of polling for the second phase of the Lok Sabha elections, certain unpleasant home truths have started sinking in. Rajdeep Sardesai, among others, is angry that young voters did not come out to vote in Bangalore. The media were expecting a much better show, after all the hard work that they had put in to get young voters energised in what they believed was a manner that would strike a huge chord in them. For the record, the average turnout in the city was 46.66% compared to 51.5% in 2004. Worse, it was even lower at 44.73% in the most literate Bangalore South that boasted some great candidates, including Capt Gopinath.

What went wrong? Why did Youngistan not display the kind of keenness to make a difference that they should have, after the huge media focus on them, particularly in Karnataka? Why was there virtually no response to the sustained media campaign against the goons of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar for what they had been doing over the last couple of years in the state?

Remember how the whole nation was horrified at reports of churches being vandalised, apparently for no reason whatsoever, across the state, including Bangalore? Remember how Ram Muthalik and his supporters had beaten up boy and girls in a pub in Mangalore, to "protect" Indian culture? Remember how there were almost daily reports of how unsafe it had become for women to live in "BJP's" Karnataka, with them being molested regularly in safe Bangalore, arguably India's most modern and cosmopolitan city?

And who can forget the famous Pink Chaddi Campaign that a couple of journalists had launched in Delhi to awaken young, modern Indians to the grave danger being posed to the country by fascist goons of Muthalik's Ram Sene. If one had gone by the kind of blanket media coverage that campaign got in the visual and print media, one would have concluded that modern India was fed up with the backward-looking policies and fascist mindset of the BJP and its parivar, and was desperately looking for a new direction, the US firmly in sight.

25% of India's voters are under 35. India has perhaps the largest proportion of young voters in the world. Yet, India's leadership is largely in the hands of people who are in their seventies and eighties. These facts have been highlighted ad nauseum over the last couple of years in the media to motivate the youth to vote for young leaders who are in tune with their aspirations and mindsets. Campaigns like "Jaago Re" and Lead India, rock concerts, TV chat shows, blogs etc have all been creating so much of noise that it was taken for granted that the youth, India's Youngistan, would actually "shut up and vote" in these elections.





Why have both these broad strategies, one positive for a young and modern secular India represented by the Congress, and the other negative against a communal BJP, failed to enthuse voters of Youngistan to come out in Bangalore and elsewhere and say what was expected they would after such 'carpet bombing'?

It now appears that people who live in Bangalore are not enthused by all this talk of youth and modernity, and understand well that there is much more to leadership than age and pop music. Why only Bangalore? Even in his home state of UP, Rahul, Gandhi has not been able to make his presence felt beyond the family constituency of Amethi, where too just about 45% turned up to vote? And, if one takes into account the results of assembly elections in the last few years, it becomes clear that Rahul Gandhi has not been able to inspire Indians, young and old, anywhere in the country. Now, if one is unable to do that despite such a heavy duty surname and a fawning media pulling out all stops to promote him, surely the message that should not be missed is that people have not found in him what the are looking for in the leader of this country.

Similarly, the incessant hate campaign to make young voters vote against the BJP and, therefore, for Rahul's Congress, has not energised young voters of Bangalore to come out to vote the BJP out. Is it because they know more than what the rest of the nation has been told by the media? Or is it because they do not quite look at things in the manner that a few disconnected, rootless and politically motivated people who populate the media do? Or is it because they believe that this is actually a sick mind game being played by the media to make them vote for the Congress, which they think is as bad as, if not worse than, the BJP?

The contrast between the disinterest shown by educated and aware young voters of Bangalore in the Lok Sabha elections and the enthusiasm that was shown by voters in the US last year to elect Barack Obama has a big lesson for India's media and its politicians. Americans voted wholeheartedly for an unknown and inexperienced Obama not because they thought that John McCain was not good enough to be their President but because Obama fired their imagination and kindled their hopes in a manner that made them forget the colour of his skin. He was not created by the media; nor was McCain run down by anyone including Obama himself.

The silent but effective message given by the young voters of Bangalore, Pune and many other cities and towns should open many eyes. As things appear now, it seems that India's media have not only failed to achieve what they wanted to in these elections, but have also inadvertently made more formidable a couple of other political leaders in the opposite camp and brought them to the centre stage.

This is what happens when you are arrogant, out of touch with people and try to use a powerful medium to push a motivated political agenda through.
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2. Biased Indian media: where's the truth?
3. Opinions, not opinion polls
4. Priyanka's political plunge: never say never
5. The Varun fiasco: who is not playing the communal card?
6. Will the Congress do better without Sonia and Rahul?
6. Valentine's Day: it's chaddi vs langot!
7. Tehelka uneraths a Prime Minister