Politicians face confusing but critical task of winning over India’s young voters

Samyak Chakrabarty is happy to see politicians showing so much interest in his generation. Samyak Chakrabarty is happy to see politicians showing so much interest in his generation.

By: Katherine Davis, Chhaya Nene, Rosalie Murphy and Kaysie Ellingson

Samyak Chakrabarty spent the past six months helping 40,000 ’20-something’ Indians register to vote. But he’s not stopping there.“If young people don’t join politics, then nothing will change,” Chakrabarty said.

Chakrabarty, 25, organizes social events and casual town-hall meetings to connect politicians with young people through his “Operation Black Dot” youth empowerment campaign. He’s eager to get his peers involved with politics. But this election season, he’s seen politicians push their own outreach to India’s youth. And it’s no wonder why as more than 65 percent of India’s 1.2 billion people are younger than 35, according to Census data, and nearly 20 percent of the population will be first-time voters in this election.

India is one of the youngest nations in the world, and the first-time voter has strong opinions to express at the polls. A recent Pew Global Attitudes survey shows about 70 percent of 18 to 29-year-olds are dissatisfied with the state of Indian politics for a variety of reasons.

Sneha Gomes, a 25-year-old from Mumbai, is among the disenchanted. “How many public toilets do you see in Mumbai that people can use?” she said, “It’s not there. You will not find benches or anything like that—basic things. I don’t see any party that is doing that right now be it Congress or BJP. And the AAP—they have no experience.”

Gomes’s dislike for India’s leading political parties has led her to not vote. That frustrates Chakrabarty, who said it’s a common response by many 20-somethings.

“I met a lot of young people. When I asked them, ‘why won’t you vote in politics’ they said, ‘Nothing will happen.’

Chakrabarty wholeheartedly believes his generation can change things and the numbers agree.  Many analysts have said that the country’s youngsters could be the deciding group in this year’s elections. That is, if they vote as a bloc.

While surveys like Pew’s may give some sense of trends among young Indians, the demographic can be a confusing group when it comes to political and social opinions.

Simpreet Singh, a Mumbai social activist and Ph.D. candidate with the Tata Institute for Social Sciences, explained, “I see young people getting more progressive and holding onto their tradition.” While more young Indians take on IT jobs, move into apartments on their own and take on more Western lifestyles and liberal social values, they are also adopting Hindu nationalism, rooted deeply in conservative tradition. “These are two contradictory things happening at the same time,” he explained.

That leaves politicians with a difficult task when wooing young voters.

India’s ruling party, the Indian National Congress, has natural appeal for some young voters. At 43, Rahul Gandhi, the party’s leader, is a relatively young face in the political sphere. He also heads up the party’s Indian Youth Congress and National …continued »