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Face The Elections

A sizeable number of the young,urban electorate seesvoting day as a good time to plan a quick break out of town,or to catch up on household chores.

Several new websites have sprung up urging the youth to vote in the 15th General Elections

A sizeable number of the young,urban electorate seesvoting day as a good time to plan a quick break out of town,or to catch up on household chores. However,this election,the indifferent voter convinced that his voice doesn’t count,isbeing courted via the Internet,to cast his vote for a change.

A number of websites are transforming the 15th General Elections into a people’s movement by forcing apathetic voters to consider becoming agents of change. If you click on http://www.resurrelect.co.cc,provocative questions pop up in bold,like,“Why shouldn’t you vote? What big change do you bring about by warming your couch? Why do you scoff at the sorry state of affairs? Stop cribbing and vote for the right candidate.” There are a score of suchlike websites: http://www.jaagore.com,www.voteindia.in and http://www.empoweringindia.org.

“We don’t tell people who to vote for. Our thrust is on getting people to vote and to arm them with information,” says Manu Singh,coordinator of Jaagore in the NCR. The websites are young and attractive and talk in the language of the urban youth. Aparajita Basu,a 21-year-old student from Jamia Millia Islamia says she’s not voted so far and describes herself as largely indifferent to the election process. But since she received a link to one of these sites on her e-mail,she’s slowly begun to think about India and the whole electoral process. “It won’t change much but I guess I should still vote,” says Basu. “Now I’m following candidates campaigns to make the right decision.”

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Jaagore,a campaign by the Bangalore-based NGO Janaagraha,began in November and soon found the reason many people stay home during elections. “They’ve never bothered to register themselves with the Election Commission. They feel that registration is a cumbersome process involving a lot of paperwork and pain,” he says. Jaagore provided a quicksolution,offering a voter registration ‘Smart Form’ that can be downloaded and “takes only five minutes to fill”. “When you register online with us,you don’t have to worry about the documents like Form 6,7,8 and 8A. We also inform voters when their names come up in theelectoral roll,” says Singh,adding that they have registered more than five lakh voters across India including 50,000 from the NCR. Inside the polling booth,it is the voters’ responsibility to make an informed choice. And this is where a generation that hardly reads newspapers orfollows news television must be supplied details about their candidates in bite-sized pieces(a leading news channel has data that suggests the average Indian spends less than 20 minutes a day on daily news).

The http://www.voteindia.org team from Mumbai feels that “as an eligible,intelligent,responsible voter,you should know your candidates before you vote”. Individuals provide their name,city location and e-mail addresses to the website to get all the information they need,especially in three categories—educational qualifications,personal assets and criminal history. The website team collects the data from the affadavits filed by the candidates with the EC.

But,the website that prides itself on its database is http://www.empoweringindia.org,the virtual arm of the Delhi-based Liberty Institute,a non-profit body,which claims to have details on more than 50,000 politicians across India,culled from EC affidavits. Samudra Roy,a 24-year-old public relations professional from Delhi,who is determined to cast her vote for “the right person” is an active user of Empoweringindia.com,especially the section that analyses the performance of parties and candidates. “It was here that I found out that Delhi has two MPs with criminal charge—Sajjan Kumar from Outer Delhi and Ajay Maken from New Delhi. Punjab,with 13 constituencies,has five elected representatives with criminal charges,among them cricketer Sidhu,” she says.

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Resurrelect,a blog,contains a section devoted to young MP’s,called ‘Report Card of Young MPs-Kids of Politicians.” According to them,Dushyant Singh,son of Vasundhara Raje was the most active in Parliament and asked 604 questions while MP and Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi has three questions and five debates to his credit. “Make what you wish of the data. We’re here only to inform,not form your opinion,” says Vivek Ranjan,the 18-year-old who founded Resurrelect with two friends early this year. Barun Mitra of Empoweringindia.com says that in December,30,000 new users

logged on to his site. “In the future,the potential of websites in garnering support will be huge,” he says. While Jaagore publicises its initiative through sessions with companies,schools and universities and has also organised a music festival,the others use personal forums like RWAs as well as online networking sites like Facebook to create awareness.

Among those impressed by the role of websites is Prof Jagdeep Chhokar,a former dean of IIM-Ahmedabad and the founder-member of the Association for Democratic Reform,a group working on electoral reforms. “There is a sense of frustration among voters,especially after 26/11. People feel that something needs to be done and want to contribute to the election process,” says Chhokar,who has been analysing elections since 1999. Clearly,your vote counts.

First published on: 07-04-2009 at 11:03:06 pm
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