Over 12 lakh new and first-time voters will be eligible to vote in the Gujarat election next month, says the Election Commission of India. At a time when the parties are pitched in a heated battle over the claims of development, demand for job quotas and caste identity, many experts say that the youth voters are already shifting the tone of the campaign rhetoric and may even influence the outcome. Many of the first-time voters were infants when the 2002 riots took place, and may be unencumbered by the politics around it.
What do first-time voters in Gujarat, who have no memory of 2002, expect from the elections?
If there is one thing which may distinguish this assembly election in Gujarat from the previous elections, it is the engagement of the young voters who are in the age-group of 18-25 years. The young voters not only seem to be enormously interested in these elections, they are also likely to vote for the Congress in much bigger numbers than they had ever in the past.
A sizeable proportion of young voters who had voted for Narendra Modi, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate in 2014, are likely to shift their support from the BJP. At this moment, it is slightly unclear if the Congress would be the only beneficiary of this shift, though it is apparent that the Congress would certainly have some gains with this shift. The proportion of shift among the young voters would be crucial for the electoral outcome of these elections.
Godhra is not at all an issue for the young voters. It is not an issue for the middle aged or the elderly either. At this moment, the economic concerns such as unemployment, price rise and hardships due to demonetisation and Goods and Services Tax (GST) are the real concern of the Gujarati voters.
Here are other sharp perspectives on the Gujarat Elections:
Mahipal Gadhvi: Gujarat state NSUI president
Yashwant Deshmukh: founder-director, CVoter International
Naresh Desai: state secretary, ABVP, Gujarat
Vishnu Pandya: political analyst and Padmashree awardee
Sadly, these issues which concern the daily life of the people are getting overshadowed by the issue of caste identity. The language, which is being widely spoken by the parties, is of Patels, Patidars, Dalits and OBC. This is largely because the state had witnessed the emergence of community leaders in the name of Hardik Patel, Jignesh Mevani and Alpesh Thakor — all three young leaders have been able to raise the issue of reservation, discrimination and lack of development in Gujarat very effectively.
The three leaders have been able to mobilse sections of voters within their own caste groups, especially the young voters. It only needs to be seen if they are able to maintain the momentum and keep attracting the attention of the young voters.
Sanjay Kumar is a professor and director at CSDS