Over 12 lakh new and first-time voters will be eligible to vote in the Gujarat elections 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 youth voters are already shifting the tone of the campaign rhetoric, and may even influence the outcome. Many 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?
A majority of first-time voters in Gujarat are students. And in the current election campaign, there are two major issues that student face.
The foremost issue in this election for the youth is the extensive privatisation of education. The students are really troubled by Gujarat’s education policy. There is no cap on creating private universities and colleges in the state, which charge exorbitant fees for their courses. The practice of ‘donation’ is quite rampant in private universities. Even the student-teacher ratio in Gujarat is horrible. There are places in Gujarat where there are hardly two or three teachers available for every 1,000-1,200 students.
Young voters want the new government to come up with a better education policy and resolve these issues. The young generation wants more government colleges and universities to be built in the state.
Here are other sharp perspectives on the Gujarat Elections:
Yashwant Deshmukh: founder-director, CVoter International
Sanjay Kumar: professor and director at CSDS
Naresh Desai: state secretary, ABVP, Gujarat
Vishnu Pandya: political analyst and Padmashree awardee
The other demand is for free education for girls, and free and safe bus service to their educational institutions. There should also be a fee cap on private educational institutions.
The second major problem faced by the youth is of unemployment. According to some statistics, there are around 1.2 million youth who are registered with employment exchanges, and are currently wandering around jobless. I think figure might be even higher. There are people who have attained Ph.D. degrees, but they are also struggling to get suitable jobs.
The private education system has become a business, and failed to provide any jobs. The new government must put the commercialisation of education on hold.
Mahipal Gadhvi, Gujarat state NSUI president